MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

December 8, 2012

Lawyers’ sludge suit fees at issue

Dispute involves how proposed settlement order should be worded

— Lawyers in a lawsuit brought by owners of property damaged by sewer sludge have set the stage for a battle over fees and costs.

Post-trial motions exposed the dispute, which involves a proposed order for judgment filed on behalf of the plaintiffs. Defense lawyers argue that the proposed order “erroneously” describes and characterizes the rulings and verdicts entered after the weeklong October trial.

The lawsuit was filed in 2010 by Thomas and Faustina Greuel, Marvin and Teresa Holdridge, and Joe and Brenda Flusche, all of whom own property near a site where the sludge had been applied. Heavy rains that fell in September 2010 washed the regulated wastes from the application site across adjacent properties.

Jurors rendered a $228,000 verdict against Sludge Technology Inc. in favor of claims presented by the Greuels and Holdridges. Sludge Technology Inc., a local company, transports and disposes of sewer sludge generated at wastewater treatment plants in Muskogee and other municipalities.

The presiding judge entered directed verdicts in favor of defendants Dan and Cheryl Leatherman and the city of Muskogee. A directed verdict is issued when a judge determines that insufficient evidence was presented to support a plaintiff’s claims. Jurors ruled in favor of defendants Tonto Construction and Larry Leatherman.

Since the trial ended Oct. 23, lawyers have been wrangling over the language of a proposed order.

A Tulsa lawyer, Jason Aamodt, who represented the property owners, said in a motion asking the court to settle the dispute that he had addressed two of three concerns expressed by defense lawyers. Those concerns, Aamodt states, include a desire to preserve all objections made at trial and establish the prevailing parties for the purpose of apportioning attorney fees and costs.

The third concern, Aamodt states, involves a demand to summarize “the entire trial proceedings” in the final order. Aamodt argues that such a fact-intensive summary is unnecessary, but he revised his proposed order to accomm-

odate defendants’ concerns regarding the other issues.

Lawyers who represented Sludge Technology Inc., Tonto Construction, the Leathermans and the city argue “a more detailed summary of the proceedings ... is both warranted and reasonable.”

Steve Metcalf, one of two lawyers for the companies, their principals, and the individual defendants, argues in his response to Aamodt’s motion that the proposed order omits critical language. The plaintiffs’ proposed order, Metcalf argues, omits the language “because there is a significant dispute” with regard to which parties are entitled to an award for attorneys’ fees.

Sewer sludge is a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process, the disposal of which is regulated by permit. It consists of solids from which wastewater has been removed, treated and reintroduced into nature.

A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that biosolids from wastewater treatment contained metals, pharmaceuticals, semivolatile organic materials, antibiotics, hormones, steroids and other pollutants.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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