Port of San Diego Reaches Settlement in Monsanto PCB Case

Kelley Drye is pleased to congratulate our long-term client the Port of San Diego for its successful resolution of claims against Monsanto Company and certain corporate affiliates regarding historical contamination of San Diego Bay and surrounding land with Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are a group of man-made chemicals that were commonly used in building materials, electrical equipment, paint, and many other applications before being largely banned by 1980. Monsanto was the only North American manufacturer of PCBs for decades. San Diego Bay sediments have been contaminated with PCBs due to their widespread historical use. The Port holds the vast majority of the bay and surrounding tidelands in trust for the People of California, and champions the protection and enhancement of the bay and its many beneficial uses.

The Port, represented in the litigation by a team of Kelley Drye’s national environmental practitioners and the Port’s in-house legal team, brought a first-in-kind lawsuit against the Monsanto entities in 2015 for creating a public nuisance in San Diego Bay. Numerous other cities, ports, and other government entities followed suit in bringing claims related to the environmental impacts of PCBs, ultimately resulting in a class action settlement approved in November 2022 for approximately $550 million, to be allocated among the Port and other class members in exchange for releases of individual cases. The Port dismissed its individual case on February 3, 2023.

As public trustee of San Diego Bay, the Port spearheads efforts to investigate, remediate, and hold polluters accountable for PCB contamination, and has done so for decades. The Port’s efforts and collaboration with the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, neighboring cities, port operators, and other stakeholders have proven successful. San Diego Bay is widely recognized as cleaner now than when the Port came into existence in 1962. Yet, persistently high levels of PCBs remain in San Diego Bay sediment which, among other things, limits how much fish may be safely consumed, especially by children and pregnant women.

The Port proudly protects the invaluable natural resources within its jurisdiction,” said Chairman Rafael Castellanos, Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners. We look forward to receiving settlement distributions and continuing to restore the health of San Diego Bay, the crown jewel of our amazing region. Thank you and congratulations to the many Port employees involved in the litigation and the team at Kelley Drye for their tireless efforts and perseverance in holding polluters accountable.”

The release of claims marks the end of the Port’s hard fought and successful litigation against Monsanto, and the Port’s anticipated recovery of past and future costs related to restoration of the bay is a huge win for the people of California, and particularly those who live and recreate in the San Diego region,” said Kelley Drye partner Bill Jackson, who led the firm’s representation of the Port and is co-chair of the firm’s Environmental Law Practice Group.

The Port had the vision and fortitude to take on this novel case, against defendants with virtually unlimited resources, and Kelley Drye was honored to invest its time, talents, and resources in the effort,” added Kelley Drye partner Kenneth Corley.

In addition to Jackson and Corley, Kelley Drye’s litigation team was led by partner Andrew Homer, special counsels Nancy Yanochik and Jennifer Barks, and paralegal Kenneth Blankenship, with the valuable help of many highly skilled lawyers, paralegals, and other professionals.

The Port’s in-house legal team was led by General Counsel Thomas Russell and Senior Deputy General Counsel John Carter. Other in-house attorneys who assisted with the litigation include Assistant General Counsel Rebecca Harrington, Assistant General Counsel Simon Kann, and retired Assistant General Counsel Ellen Gross.

At the time the class action settlement was announced, the Port’s case was the only such case in the country that prevailed against Monsanto’s motions for summary judgment and was proceeding to trial. The investment in this case was a truly remarkable endeavor for Kelley Drye. We take pride in putting our skill, experience, expertise, and relationships with some of the leading expert teams in the world to the test against the best lawyers and experts that industry has to offer, and are thrilled to have secured this victory for the Port and the people,” added Jackson.

For decades, the lawyers at Kelley Drye have been fortunate to represent public sector clients in historic and incredibly complex natural resource damages and environmental contamination cases of all kinds. In total, Kelley Drye’s public clients have recovered tens of billions of dollars in remediation costs, property damages, natural resource damages, and lost tax revenues in a variety of complex environmental matters, and we have created the nation’s preeminent environmental practice group for states, attorneys general, local governments, and other public entities. For more on Kelley Drye’s Public Sector representations click here.