Bullseye Glass sues Gov. Brown and agencies for $30 million
On December 12, attorneys representing Bullseye Glass Company of the Brooklyn neighborhood filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court, District of Oregon, Portland Division, against Kate Brown, in her capacity as Governor of Oregon and state and county agency heads, for "Violation of Civil Rights; Conspiracy to Violate Civil Rights" – and demanding a jury trial; asking for $30 million in relief.
Early in January, Bullseye Glass owners Daniel Schwoerer and Lani McGregor, company manager Jim Jones, and attorney Allan Garten of GRM Law Group, sat down with THE BEE to talk about the legal action.
From the time the company owners approached him, Garten began, Schwoerer and McGregor made it clear that "one of their paramount objectives was to get their reputation back.
"They believe in strong environmental regulation, believed that they had always followed what DEQ had asked them to do, and they believed that they were being unfairly penalized – from the presentation of really bad science and a rush to judgment," Garten remarked. "The discriminatory way in which the [Oregon] DEQ, some of the media, and state agencies treated them has had a devastating impact on their reputation, and their ability to conduct their business."
Unlike other glass companies who have left the States of Oregon and Washington, and gone to Mexico, Bullseye Glass decided to stay in Portland and continue to produce their art glass, Garten told THE BEE. "In order to do that, they had to successfully defend themselves in a class action case [which has yet to be certified].
"This lawsuit is designed to highlight DEQ's failure to regulate the large industries in the state that contribute to the 'toxic soup' in which we live – while Bullseye thought that it was, and history shows that it has been, in compliance with its permits.
"So, to single out a company for discriminatory treatment, when it is been in full compliance with all of its permits, seems to be a serious breach of trust that this company placed in the state regulators," Garten asserted.
To this end, the 88-page document (www.readthebee.com/images/Bullseye_lawsuit_document.pdf) also names, in their respective capacities, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Richard Whitman, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen, the Multnomah County Health Department, and unnamed state officials.
"From what is written in the lawsuit, it's is quite clear that Bullseye welcomes strong environmental regulation," Garten asserted. "And, in addition to recovering monetary damages for the injury to the reputation, it is also to shed light on what the state has failed to do."
Co-owner Schwoerer pointed out the company promptly spent more than $1 million to make Bullseye Glass "the cleanest manufacturing facility in the state, in terms of particulate emissions – held to a standard this 20 times more stringent than other manufacturers in the state."
Specifically, the permanent rule that was passed to regulate the company – and only Bullseye Glass, Schwoerer reminded – is a permit to meet .005 grains per cubic foot of emissions, while all others are held to .01 grains per cubic foot of emissions, a standard 20 times higher.
"We complied with the regulation because we wanted to stay in business; but also, because, quite honestly, we care," Schwoerer said. "I feel good about the money that was spent to put our filtration systems in place, because we are now a very clean manufacturing facility, unlike any other."
Garten chimed in, "The company is not seeking to get out of the singularly stringent regulation that is been imposed upon this company – they're not trying to escape the responsibility, or elude the regulatory regime this been imposed upon them – but they simply want a 'fair, level, playing field' for all industries across the state, resulting in cleaner air for everybody."
Concerns were raised in early 2016, based upon a leak to media of an 18-day air monitoring study in October in 2015 and an earlier study based upon moss by the US Forest Service, Garten recalled; "these studies are deeply flawed and don't come close to showing significant contamination that would harm anybody.
"In fact there were three soil studies during the course of the year which didn't show the soil itself had any level of contamination that would cause concern for the health or safety of any people – including the 150 Bullseye employees, many of whom live in the neighborhood," Garten went on.
These "leaks" to media that became news stories led to a class-action lawsuit filed in April, 2016, in the amount of more than $1 billion for damages to neighbors, he said.
"Two weeks after the article came out, class action lawyers came into town from Seattle – a nationally-based plaintiffs class-action law firm – and they were already saying that the 'gold standard of remedies' was filing class-action lawsuits. That was before they conducted any tests or research. They claimed that neighbors could not sue the state, but instead, should sue Bullseye for negligence, trespass, and nuisance," said Garten. "Again, this lawsuit was not filed based on doing any research, but was on the basis of maps that published in newspapers."
Not long after the class-action lawsuit was filed, Garten pointed out, the Oregon Health Authority came out with a soil study "saying that is safe to eat your locally-grown vegetables; and I guarantee you, nobody was publishing that it was safe to eat your locally-grown vegetables," commented the attorney.
"The determination was that the only way Bullseye Glass could fight this class-action lawsuit, get their reputation back, and continue with their business, was to make it clear to the State of Oregon that they could no longer be viewed as the company that could be bullied, while others were not being [similarly] regulated."
The law firm expects the lawsuit to be a lengthy process, starting with state attorneys filing motions to dismiss the case, Garten stated.
"The last thing they want, in the process of legal discovery, is for us to shed light on the practices that they've used over the years – 'looking the other way' when regulating heavy industry, while putting an undue amount of focus on one company, based on what we will show was flawed science," he said.
About the class-action lawsuit, Garten said, "It is our belief that the neighbors and environmental groups should support Bullseye in this effort to shed light on the state's failure to regulate heavy industry.
"Instead of cheering on a class-action lawsuit that is designed singularly to put Bullseye out of business, they should be intervening on behalf of Bullseye in this effort to force the state to regulate all businesses in a fair and nondiscriminatory way," Garten concluded.
The State of Oregon has not yet officially commented on the Bullseye lawsuit.