- Waste Management of New York (WMNY) and plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit over the company's High Acres Landfill in Fairport, New York have proposed a $2.3 million settlement, court documents show. Led by plaintiff James D'Amico, the original lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York in January 2018.
- Under the terms of the proposed July 14 settlement, WMNY will pay $1.3 million "into a fund for the benefit of the Class Members" from that date over a 30-month period and an additional $1 million into "improvement measures" at the landfill. Those measures include installing a gas collection system and waste mass dewatering pumps and control, along with synthetic alternate daily cover systems and "nearly 1 mile of an additional water- and vapor-based odor control misting system."
- "High Acres has been part of the Perinton and Macedon communities for nearly 50 years and our relationships with our neighbors are very important to us," Garrett Trierweiler, senior manager of public affairs for Waste Management, told Waste Dive in a statement. Trierweiler said the company is "pleased" by the tentative resolution, but could not offer further comment as the settlement is pending court review.
If approved by a judge, the 130-page proposed settlement would end an ongoing dispute brought by D'Amico and his neighbors over the landfill's alleged impacts on their homes. The plaintiffs sued over claims of nuisance, negligence and gross negligence regarding odor effects stemming from the upstate New York site.
The parties that make up the class action suit and would benefit from the settlement include "all owner/occupants, tenants, renters or lessees of residential property" within a designated area dating from Jan. 26, 2015 to the date on which the settlement becomes binding. That designated area is defined as the 2.5-mile radius reaching from the center of the landfill outward.
According to the settlement, WMNY filed two motions to dismiss the claims prior to the settlement. The court dismissed the plaintiff's public nuisance claims without prejudice, but also denied WMNY's efforts to dismiss them "on the basis of judicial abstention doctrines, and for failure to state a negligence claim." The plaintiff filed a third amended complaint to bolster the public nuisance complaint, but the parties notified the court of their intent to settle before it could rule on that motion.
The settlement states the parties have engaged with a neutral third-party mediator and mutually agreed to the terms. Plaintiffs led by D'Amico also note the agreement "provides substantial benefits" for them and "importantly, does not release claims based on personal injury or future emissions." For a judge to approve the settlement, it must be found to have been negotiated at length, with the class adequately represented and treated as equal, and relief adequately provided. The plaintiffs say all these criteria have been met and the settlement states a judge is likely to approve the agreement as "fair, adequate, and reasonable."
The High Acres Landfill has been the subject of other controversies due to odor concerns and ongoing complaints raised by community members beyond the D'Amico suit. Last year, WMNY sought to consolidate the D'Amico case with a concurrent suit filed by Fresh Air For the Eastside (FAFE) and area residents over the same site. That effort was denied in December and the case remains ongoing. At the time, Judge Mark Pedersen echoed plaintiffs' concerns that consolidation might allow for the defendant to delay either case. He also said the cases were not in the same procedural position.
Melissa Valle, an attorney for Knauf Shaw LLP, told Waste Dive her firm is still representing 226 plaintiffs in that case and said "we have not reached a settlement." Valle, whose firm is not representing plaintiffs in the other case, offered no comment on the separate proposed settlement.
FAFE's case also involves New York City's Department of Sanitation (DSNY), as members say the city is responsible for more than 70% of MSW deposited in the landfill. DSNY previously told Waste Dive it does not comment on ongoing litigation, but that the department requires all of its contract holders to meet the same regulations. WMNY held a $3.3 billion export contract with DSNY since 2017, which involves multiple landfills, including High Acres.
High Acres is one of the most active MSW landfills in the state, with more remaining permitted capacity than any other site, according to 2018 data from New York's Department of Environmental Conservation.