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Madison County Record reports atrazine class action lawyer who earned $35 million in fees files new lawsuit against Syngenta

[ 0 ] May 5, 2021 |

Tillery: Lawyer with record high $10B trial judgment takes on Syngenta, Chevron in St. Clair

Originally published here.

By Steve Korris May 5, 2021

BELLEVILLE – Stephen Tillery, ready for trial on a claim that weed killer paraquat caused four plaintiffs to suffer Parkinson’s disease, won the biggest judgment ever in an American trial and lost it at the Illinois Supreme Court.

In 2003, after a bench trial, late Madison County judge Nicholas Byron awarded more than $10 billion to a class of cigarette smokers Tillery represented.

The few American cases with higher judgments, such as state tobacco litigation in the 1990s and Deepwater Horizon explosion suits, ended in settlement.

Tillery retreated from the field of class actions after the state Supreme Court and Congress restricted them, though he has returned as ambitious as ever.

While preparing for trial that Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner plans to start on May 10, he filed 12 paraquat suits in two months at U.S. district court.

Each suit, like the one going to trial, seeks damages from Syngenta Crop Protection for selling paraquat and Chevron USA for making it.

Three other local lawyers each filed a paraquat suit in district court and a Texas lawyer filed two.

On April 30, three firms farther away announced that they filed paraquat suits in Illinois, California, and Pennsylvania.

In their joint press release, attorney Mark DiCello of Chicago stated several hundred clients have retained them.

Chief District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel stayed all suits pending possible transfer to the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation.

If the panel judges consolidate suits from all district courts, they will pick a district judge to preside.

The Tillery trail

The Illinois Supreme Court admitted Tillery to practice in 1976.

He filed his first suit in district court in 1991, and nine more through 1999.

He litigated there constantly for years after that, not always by choice.

The national companies he sued in Madison County often removed his class complaints to district court on the basis of diverse citizenship.

Tillery usually moved to remand the complaints to Madison County, and district judges usually granted his motions.

He secured his first remand order from former district judge Patrick Murphy in 2000, on a complaint that General Motors cheated buyers.

In that year he sued Philip Morris and other tobacco companies, not for personal injuries but for marketing light cigarettes as a healthy alternative.

He stepped into the shareholder action field in 2001, along with three other lawyers in his firm and 10 other lawyers.

They represented 21 mutual fund shareholders, all Illinois residents, suing 24 pairs of advisors and distributors.

Former district judge Michael Reagan disappointed the group by severing the claims and transferring them where he thought they belonged.

Tillery and former lawyer Tom Lakin represented East Alton in a suit seeking damages from Premcor Refining for pollution.

Premcor removed it and former district judge David Herndon remanded it.

In 2002, Tillery sued Intel Corporation for 23 plaintiffs claiming the Pentium 4 processor wasn’t as fast and powerful as Intel advertised.

Intel removed the suit and Murphy remanded it.

Tillery joined future judges David Hylla and Donald Flack in suing Mattel for a class of toy buyers.

Mattel removed the suit and Murphy remanded it.

Philip Morris did not remove a claim that it deceived Sharon Price into thinking light and low tar cigarettes provided a health benefit.

She sought to represent a class seeking the difference between what they paid for lights and what they would have paid if she had known the truth.

Byron held Philip Morris liable in 2003, and piled actual and punitive damages up to a number with 11 digits.

He awarded Tillery about $1.7 billion in lawyer fees.

Philip Morris, skeptical of its prospects with Fifth District appellate judges, petitioned the Supreme Court for direct review.

The Justices denied it at first, but later granted it.

Tillery turned his attention to claims that mutual funds and insurers cheated shareholders and investors.

Defendants removed 27 such suits from Madison County between October 2003 and June 2004, and district judges remanded most of them.

Tillery filed his first suit against Syngenta, along with five other defendants in separate pollution suits for Holiday Shores Sanitary District.

All six removed the suits, and Reagan remanded them.

In 2005, class actions suffered double defeat.

First, Congress passed the Class Action Fairness Act to require federal jurisdiction over claims exceeding $5 million.

Next, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed Byron’s judgment.

The Justices found federal law preempted state law claims because the Food and Drug Administration approved light and low tar labels.

Tillery sought review at the U.S. Supreme Court and didn’t get it.

The Class Action Fairness Act didn’t apply to pending cases, so Tillery’s shareholder suits continued.

Defendants removed them to district court a second time in 2005, and district judges remanded most of them.

Defendants removed them again in 2006, and judges remanded most of them.

By 2008, Tillery remained on record in a single active case at district court.

He sued Syngenta there in 2010, on behalf of Greenville as class representative for water systems suffering contamination from weed killer atrazine.

In 2012, Syngenta agreed to pay $105 million for a release of claims from almost 2,000 systems across Corn Belt states.

District Judge Phil Gilbert approved the settlement, which allocated $5,000 to each claimant for testing and the remainder on the basis of concentration.

He awarded a $35 million lawyer fee, finding Tillery’s firm expended more than 46,600 hours and the Houston firm of Baron and Budd expended more than 36,700.

Tillery’s knowledge of investment law came in handy after the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.

The National Credit Union Association retained him to pursue recovery from Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland, Morgan Stanley, and other banks.

His firm and the Kellogg Huber firm recovered about $4.3 billion, and each firm received more than $500 million.

In 2018, in district court, Tillery and bankrupt K-Mart settled a pharmacist’s claim that K-Mart cheated the government on pharmacy bills.

K-Mart sold one of its last properties to reimburse the government and reward the estate of the pharmacist.

Tillery’s firm collected about $3.7 million and the firm of Phillips and Cohen collected about $1 million.


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