The RI Lead Paint Case: Sherwin-Williams Versus DuPont?
According to a report published by Legal Newsline, paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams wants the Rhode Island courts to take a closer look at how DuPont’s lead-paint agreement money is being spent, and what that says about what the costs of lead remediation should be…
Sherwin-Williams is requesting that two portions of DuPont’s settlement with the State be removed because they serve only Lynch’s interests. DuPont settled before the State’s trial against several paint companies, three of which were found liable for creating a public nuisance when they manufactured lead paint.In their filing, Sherwin-Williams’ attorneys repeatedly draw attention to several figures associated with the DuPont’s “settlement” (which, I believe, DuPont still claims is not a settlement), taking the position that only $4.25 million of $10 million or $12 million that DuPont agreed to pay out is going directly to remediate lead-affected homes in Rhode Island, 600 homes in total. On its surface, much of the filing is about making sure that Sherwin-Williams is not charged a second time for work that DuPont is supposed to be responsible for.
Sherwin-Williams filed two motions Wednesday — one to value the DuPont settlement and another to stay the lead paint abatement process ordered by Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein.
“In addition to valuing the overall DuPont settlement, Sherwin-Williams also moves to disgorge two monetary amounts from the settlement that were improperly diverted to two purely private purposes, to satisfy either the Attorney General’s or the State’s counsel’s private interest,” attorneys for Sherwin-Williams wrote.
The larger goal of bringing this matter to the attention of the court, however, may be to help establish that Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch’s proposed remediation figure is inflated. AG Lynch would like the three defendants found liable for creating a lead-paint nuisance in Rhode Island (Sherwin Williams, NL Industries, Millenium Holdings) to pay a total of $2.4 billion dollars to remediate 240,000 homes. However by Sherwin-Williams’ reasoning, DuPont has been assessed a maximum figure of about $7000 per home ($4.25 million divided by 600, and I say maximum because they are asking for the DuPont settlement to be officially valued by the court, and I don’t think they’d be doing that if they thought the $7000-per-home assessment was going to go significantly up). Multiply the 240,000 homes in Rhode Island needing to be remediated (actually 239,400 by SW’s estimate) by $7000, and you arrive at a total of about $1.7 billion dollars.
That’s a $700 million difference between the Attorney General’s number and the number being backed out by Sherwin-Williams. As one of three defendants potentially responsible for financing a remediation program, that’s a potential savings of over $200 million for Sherwin-Williams. For a regular person or a small business, a $200 million reduction in the amount owed for anything would be huge, but for a big company like Sherwin-Williams, it’s probably not a enough of a reduction to be considered the best case outcome. It’s pretty clear that Sherwin-Williams is laying the groundwork to use the DuPont “settlement” to argue that they owe significantly less (should they be unable to get the verdict completely overturned), but not yet clear to us legal laypeople what the full chain of their reasoning will be.