For more than six years, our firm has represented the City of Columbus, Georgia, local boat dealer John Tharpe, and South Columbus resident Owen Ditchfield in a carbon black air pollution case against the Continental Carbon plant in Phenix City, Alabama, and its parent company, China Synthetic Rubber Corporation of Taiwan. At long last, I am pleased to report that on June 27th, the United States Supreme Court issued an order rejecting all further appeals of the $20,709,000 pollution verdict entered in our clients’ favor.
In August of 2004, a federal jury in Opelika, Alabama, awarded our clients $1.9 million in compensatory damages and $17.5 million in punitive damages for the carbon black pollution that the Continental Carbon plant repeatedly released onto the Plaintiffs’ property. Over the course of that two-week trial, the jury received evidence that, according to the presiding United States District Judge Mark E. Fuller, demonstrated that the Defendants engaged in a “pattern of intentional misconduct….leading to repeated damage to the Plaintiffs’ properties.”
Following the trial, the defendant companies filed numerous appeals of the jury’s verdict; all of them were rejected by the District Court and the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Then, in August of last year, the Defendants petitioned the United States Supreme Court, requesting that it hear one final attack on the jury’s verdict. By rejecting that petition, the highest court in the land effectively ended Continental Carbon and China Synthetic’s four-year effort to overturn the jury’s decision.
Without question, the Court’s ruling underscores what the City of Columbus, Action Marine, and Owen Ditchfield have said since the beginning of this case: these companies deserved to be punished for the carbon black pollution that their Phenix City plant released into South Columbus. More importantly, this decision sends a clear message that companies like Continental Carbon and China Synthetic Rubber Corporation cannot recklessly disregard the rights and safety of their neighbors and expect to get away with it. Interestingly, the ratio of punitive damages awarded to the compensatory damages was about 9 to 1. This may be most significant since the decision followed the Court’s opinion in the Exxon case.
I would like to personally commend the Mayor, the Columbus City Council, Owen Ditchfield and John Tharpe for taking a stand in this case and for supporting the rights of their fellow citizens in South Columbus. Despite the Defendants’ efforts to conceal and downplay their misconduct in this matter, our clients never gave up and never stopped pursuing the justice to which they are entitled.
David Byrne and Rhon Jones from our firm were involved in this case from the very beginning and never gave up. Their hard work paid off. I would also like to thank our co-counsel, Jeff Friedman and Eddie Jackson, for all of their hard work on this case. Both are excellent lawyers and we look forward to working with them again in the future. We are pleased to have been able to get a very good result for our clients.
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