Last week, Patterson Harkavy filed an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in support of the rights of individuals injured by exposure to hazardous waste. Attorneys Burton Craige, Narendra Ghosh, and Paul Smith were responsible for the brief, with Attorney Ed Bell from South Carolina appearing as co-counsel.
The amicus brief addresses one of the nation's largest environmental disasters, occurring on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune near Jacksonville, North Carolina. For decades, Camp Lejeune's drinking water was contaminated with multiple known human carcinogens. Although the military had reason to know of the contamination, it did nothing to address the problem until the 1980s. Once the government finally began closing contaminated wells in 1985, it concealed the scope of the contamination for many more years. The contamination resulted in illnesses and disorders which have devastated countless lives.
Patterson Harkavy represented five of these individuals before the Supreme Court. Our clients include some of the highest profile advocates for Camp Lejeune's victims, including Jerry Ensminger, a former Marine whose deceased daughter Janey is the namesake for federal legislation providing medical benefits to many of the contamination's victims; Mike Partain, a male breast cancer survivor who has identified an ever-expanding cluster of other male breast cancer victims with similar exposure to Camp Lejeune's water; and Tom Townsend, a former Marine who lost his infant son to Camp Lejeune's water, and who has worked with Ensminger to uncover the extent of the base's contamination and the full scope of the government's efforts to suppress evidence of its malfeasance.
Patterson Harkavy’s brief was filed in CTS v. Waldburger. At issue is a 1986 amendment to the Superfund Act. The amendment was enacted to ensure that individuals injured as a result of their exposure to hazardous waste can bring suit when they discover their injury and its cause, even if their claims would otherwise be barred by state statutes of limitation. The defendant in Waldburger is seeking to shield itself from legal liability under a provision in North Carolina’s statutes of limitation that prevents many legal claims from being brought more than ten years after the occurrence of the act causing an injury. Defendant argues that since North Carolina’s provision has been judicially labeled a “statute of repose” instead of an ordinary statute of limitation, the 1986 amendment does not affect it in any way.
Many of those injured by Camp Lejeune’s water developed cancer decades after being exposed to the base’s carcinogenic water. A ruling in favor of the defendant in Waldburger could therefore prevent these individuals from bringing any legal claims against the military. The United States government supports the defendant’s position, and has made nearly identical arguments in a separate case in an attempt to avoid liability for its misconduct at Camp Lejeune.
Patterson Harkavy’s brief can be accessed here. It discusses the scope of the Camp Lejeune disaster and describes how the Supreme Court’s ruling could affect countless military families that were recklessly exposed to hazardous chemicals.
The story of the Camp Lejeune contamination, its effects, and the efforts to uncover the government's malfeasance has been told in the award-winning film “Semper Fi: Always Faithful,” and in the recently published book "A Trust Betrayed: The Untold Story of Camp Lejeune and the Poisoning of Generations of Marines and Their Families." Additional information can be found on the website "The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten."