AP&S Successfully Defends Client in Longest Jury Trial in Rhode Island History and on Appeal in Landmark Lead Pigment Public Nuisance Case
In State v. Lead Industries Association, 951 A.2d 428 (R.I. 2008), AP&S attorneys successfully defended Atlantic Richfield Company in the longest civil jury trial in Rhode Island history and on appeal in the Attorney General’s landmark lead pigment public nuisance case. The case was the first of its kind in the country to go to trial and received extensive national press.
In 1999, the state brought a ten-count complaint against eight former manufacturers of lead pigment. The state alleged that the manufacturers or their predecessors-in-interest had manufactured, promoted, distributed, and sold lead pigment for use in residential paint, failed to warn Rhode Islanders of the hazardous nature of lead, failed to adequately test lead pigment and concealed these hazards from the public or misrepresented that they were safe. As such, the state asserted, defendants were liable for, among other things, creating a public nuisance. The state sought $3-5 billion in damages and costs to remediate all lead-based properties in the state.
AP&S and counsel for other defendants initially moved to dismiss all counts of the state’s complaint and with respect to the public nuisance claim, asserted that they did not control the lead pigment at the time it caused harm to Rhode Island children and, therefore, could not be held liable for public nuisance. AP&S also argued that there was no interference with a public right, a necessary prerequisite to maintenance of a public nuisance claim. The trial justice denied defendants’ motion and the public nuisance claim proceeded to trial. However, after a seven-week trial, the jury was deadlocked 4 to 2 for the defendants and the trial justice declared a mistrial.
After the first trial resulted in a mistrial, a second trial in Providence Superior Court commenced, which spanned 18 weeks and became the longest civil jury trial in the state’s history. AP&S’ client was the only defendant found not responsible by the jury at trial.
On appeal, the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed the verdict in Atlantic Richfield’s favor, concluding, as AP&S had argued in its motion to dismiss eight years before, that the state could not demonstrate that the defendants interfered with a public right – a necessary prerequisite to maintenance of a public nuisance claim. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that defendants’ conduct did not constitute a public nuisance.
The case, which was the first of its kind, garnered national attention, and in subsequent public nuisance actions in other jurisdictions followed the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s decision.