HOUSTON, November 17, 2014: A Morgan Lewis litigation team scored a major victory for firm client International Paper Co. (IP), when a Harris County, Texas, jury returned a complete defense verdict on November 13, in potentially the largest environmental penalty case in Texas history.
The suit stemmed from allegations that International Paper’s predecessor-in-interest improperly disposed of paper mill waste in an impoundment by the San Jacinto River and never took steps to prevent that waste from entering the river over the course of 45 years. The plaintiff, Harris County, sought $1.6 billion against IP for alleged violations of three Texas environmental statutes, claiming penalties for alleged contamination of the San Jacinto River with paper mill waste containing dioxin.
The six-week trial was closely watched by local media, industry and the public. As the team prepared to begin closing arguments on November 12, IP’s co-defendants announced that they had reached a settlement with the county. IP trusted in the strategy laid out by the Morgan Lewis team, and an hour after closing arguments, the jury returned a zero liability verdict in favor of IP. The case, titled Harris County, Texas et al. v. International Paper Co., was filed in 2011 in the 295th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas.
The Morgan Lewis trial team representing International Paper was led by Litigation partners Winn Carter and David Schrader. Litigation partners Craig Stanfield and David Levy provided additional support with assistance from associates Yardena Zwang-Weissman, Lewis Smith, Jason Muriby, Homaira Hosseini, Denton Nichols, Mary Susan Formby and John Deck. Litigation senior attorney D'Andra Shu, and of counsels Claire Swift Kugler and Clay Rogers played an active role on the team as did Environmental partner Christopher Amandes.