Decatur attorney says city considers itself a plaintiff in Tennessee Riverkeeper lawsuit


DECATUR, Ala. – Monday, a federal judge granted what he called the last extension for mediation in the ongoing lawsuit filed by the Tennessee Riverkeeper group against 3M, Decatur, and others.

The parties have been given until September 15th to negotiate an agreement. After that, the court said, they need to start gathering evidence for a trial.

The city is named as one of the defendants. But at what seems like could be the final hour the city signaled it considers itself on the other side of the lawsuit.

At the hearing Monday, Barney Lovelace, attorney for the City of Decatur, told the court the city is in essence a plaintiff in the case, and they have their own concerns to resolve with 3M.

News 19 asked Lovelace about those concerns Tuesday. He did not elaborate but said the city has considered itself a plaintiff for years.

Decatur was named a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Tennessee Riverkeeper in 2016. The lawsuit alleges 3M and other chemical makers have contaminated the Tennessee River with chemicals produced at their plants and they want it cleaned up.

But Monday, as attorneys for the Riverkeeper group and 3M suggested settlement negotiations were close to resolution, Lovelace said it is in essence a plaintiff and it will take time to reach a settlement with 3M. Lovelace said Tuesday Decatur’s position is not new.

Back in 2016, in a related civil case in Morgan County circuit court against 3M and Decatur and Morgan County, those governments asked the court, “to allow the city and county to assert claims against one or more other parties to this action.”Tuesday he told News 19 quote “One result of those claims is that 3M has been reimbursing our clients for their attorney’s fees based on our demand.”

But the Riverkeeper’s founder said Decatur’s position hasn’t been well known.

“Whether the city is plaintiffs or defendants has been an ongoing unanswered public question for years. Members of city council have asked that, the press has asked that, Riverkeeper asked that, concerned members of the public have asked that,” said David Whiteside, Tennessee Riverkeeper founder. “I’ve always been confused as to why the city filed the way they did and where they stand on this case.”

September 15th is the new settlement deadline in the Tennessee Riverkeeper lawsuit.

“They finally have showed us a plan and it’s near a negotiation all the parties are somewhat happy with, but we need more time to analyze every single page, every single word.

Whiteside says he would like to see 3M and other alleged polluters clean up PFAS contamination in North Alabama.

3M has settled with several entities in lawsuits alleging contamination.

Decatur Public Schools filed an intent to sue 3M in 2019 over high levels of PFAS chemicals found at the Brookhaven Middle School property. 3M bought the property for $1.25.

3M paid the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority $35 million to settle a drinking water contamination lawsuit in 2019.

In 2010, the Minnesota attorney general filed a lawsuit against 3M for contaminating the water with chemicals. 3M settled with the state for $850 million just hours before the trial was set to begin.

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