MUSCATINE — The Grain Processing Corporation class-action settlement has been approved, and anyone who plans to file a claim to receive benefits has until March 19 to mail in forms.
During a hearing Tuesday, Judge John Telleen approved the settlement at a hearing at the Muscatine School District Administration Center. With more than 30 class members present including plaintiffs, Telleen said he found "wholeheartedly" the settlement is fair and reasonable to class members.
The case began in 2012, when a class action was brought against GPC by eight residents who claimed smoke, odor and haze from the plant caused a nuisance. The class was certified in October 2015 when around 200 people filed claims. Class certification was affirmed in May 2017 by the Iowa Supreme Court and the class prepared for trial set for July 2018. Telleen ordered the parties into mediation in April 2018, and a settlement was reached in October 2018.
During the course of the case, attorneys for the class argued plant emissions were negligent and odor was a nuisance that lead to the loss of enjoyment for property owners. The agreement had GPC paying $45 million into a fund to cover an estimated 14,000 class member claims and another $6.5 million covering pollution controls at the plant. Depending on where class members live, each person in a household may receive $2,000 to $16,000. The settlement releases GPC from liability from all known and unknown claims based on air emissions and odor on or before the settlement was approved and for the next five years.
To qualify to make a claim, a person must have lived at a property in the class area, 1.5-mile radius of the plant, as a renter, owner or dependent of a renter or owner anytime between April 24, 2007 and Sept. 1, 2017. Each class member, adults and children, must fill out a form to receive a share of the settlement. A notice was sent to class members Nov. 19 following preliminary approval.
People employed by GPC with titles of manager, director, vice president, senior vice president or president do not qualify, nor do persons who opted out of the class action in 2017.
Full settlement documents are available at GPCclassaction.com or by calling 1-888-952-9083. For local assistance with the claim form or other questions, class counsel members are available by appointment at Larew Law Office, 210 Cedar St. by calling 563-263-2120.
Class members are encouraged to file claims as soon as possible, according to Telleen and class counsel. Forms may be time-intensive and claimants may have questions before the March 19 final postmark date to file.
"I would hate to see people not take advantage of that," Telleen said.
Attorneys associated with the class will be available by appointment at Larew Law Office in Muscatine. Those services will be provided at no cost.
"We are in Muscatine three days a week," said Sarah Siskind, lawyer for the class. "And we plan to expand."
If money is leftover after payouts, Frank said the first $2 million would go into a community fund to make improvements to the neighborhood around the plant.
Lawyers warned outside groups offering settlement recovery services may start to appear. The Federal Trade Commission offers this advice:
- Don't give money or your bank or credit card account number to anyone who calls offering to recover money, merchandise, or prizes you never received if the caller says you have to pay a fee in advance.
- Before you use any company to recover either money or a prize, ask what specific services the company provides and the cost of each service. Check out the company with local government law enforcement and consumer agencies; ask whether other people have registered complaints about the business. You also can enter the company name into an online search engine to look for complaints.
Siskind said class counsel "can't speak to the quality, cost or expertise of service" of companies offering recovery services, but counsel is "accountable to the court."
"We are basically (the class's) court designated lawyers," she said, "and have been vetted as such."