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Action on odors

Letter from eastern Iowa law firm just an ad, local retired attorney said

October 28, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Thursday, many local residents received a letter from James Larew of the Larew Law Office with locations in Des Moines, Muscatine and in eastern Iowa. The letter, clearly marked as Advertising Material, invited local residents to attend a meeting with Larew Nov. 3 in Estherville.

Retired attorney Max Pelzer said, "This is just a way to drum up business. There was a time lawyers were very restricted on how they could advertise and what they could say in their ads. Now they advertise on TV and radio and make all kinds of claims."

According to Bankrate, class action lawsuits rarely end with significant payouts to the little guys. The attorneys and the named plaintiffs may receive a large payout, but plaintiffs not named in the suit (known as class members) could be one of thousands of plaintiffs with the judgment money divided as such. Forty million class members in a recent suit against Target received $0.25 each after the $10 million was divided.

Researchers at Mayer Brown looked up every consumer class action in federal court in 2009 reported by two major commercial lawsuit journals. They discovered that in five of six cases where data was available, the percentage of class members who actually got money ranged from a high of 12 percent to a low of 0.000006 percent. If the more appealing prospect is a day in court, telling a judge and perhaps a jury how the odor has affected one's family, as an example, not a single case studied by Mayer Brown went to trial.

It's all in the process. Once a judge certifies a case as an action on behalf of a class of thousands of consumers, attorneys for the company usually find the stakes too high for companies to consider anything less than settling. Sometimes plaintiff attorneys settle voluntarily, at which point the records become confidential so that class members never find out how much their onetime lawyers were paid to drop what once seemed like a promising case.

There is some protection from the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, which limited some of the most egregious practices of the class action bar.

The Iowa State Bar Association recommends contacting your own attorney, because participating in a class action lawsuit will affect your right to file an action on your own.

Class action lawsuits can also take years to wind down.

The Emmet County Board of Supervisors is taking action this week. They are going on a private tour of Central Bi-Products' Estherville rendering plant Tuesday afternoon, then convening in closed session for discussion of pending litigation.

Oct. 1, county attorney Doug Hansen filed a petition for a civil penalty against Farmers Union Industries, doing business as Central Bi-Products.

That demand seeks $4,750 in the form of a civil penalty plus court costs for committing a county infraction, a civil offense, and four repeat offenses.

$750 is sought for leaving carcasses on the open air on semi trailers June 27, a violation of the Conditional Use Permit.

$1,000 is sought for the company allegedly allowing fluids from dead carcasses to spill onto its property and draining onto adjacent property.

$1,000 is sought for failure to process carcasses in an enclosed facility and failing to clean up and dispose of fluid that had spilled on July 10.

$1,000 is sought for all day July 11 in which at least 19 citizens in the area of the plant called the county to complain of the odor.

$1.000 is sought for dates from July 12 to July 23 in which at least 38 citizens called to complain about the odor.

All of these infractions would constitute a violation of the requirement in the Conditional Use Permit to "make all reasonable effort to control odor."

Farmers Union Industries filed a boilerplate answer to the petition in which they deny the statements in the petition and seek a hearing on the matter.



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