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Trials In Camp Lejeune Litigation

Set To Begin In 2024

Law360 (September 27, 2023, 2:47 PM EDT) — Trials in litigation over contaminated drinking water on the Camp Lejeune Marine base are expected to begin next year in North Carolina federal court, involving plaintiffs who say the water caused their bladder cancer, kidney cancer and lymphoma, according to the latest case management order.

The order, which was filed Tuesday, lays out a “forceful road map toward resolution for those who were injured by the water in Camp Lejeune and who have long waited to vindicate their rights,” a spokesperson for Keller Postman LLC, one of the firms representing the plaintiffs, told Law360 in a statement.

“Plaintiffs’ leadership proposed a litigation plan designed to advance these cases as fast as reasonably possible, and we are grateful that the court has trusted us with the responsibility to execute it,” the spokesperson said.

In the case management order, U.S. District Judges Terrence W. Boyle, Louise W. Flanagan, James C. Dever III and Richard E. Myers II — all of the Eastern District of North Carolina — called on the plaintiffs’ leadership committee, which consists of nine attorneys, and the government to provide the court with proposed pretrial orders for the protection of confidential and privileged information, among other things, within 15 days. Within 30 days, the parties’ counsel must provide the court with a proposed pretrial electronic discovery order, the judges said.

As for the upcoming discovery and trials, the judges said they expect the parties to conduct discovery efficiently and that staging the two by tracks of five illnesses each is the most efficient way to advance the litigation and support a global resolution. Track 1 should consist of plaintiffs alleging that they contracted bladder cancer, kidney cancer, leukemia, Parkinson’s disease or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune, the judges said, and trials for Track 1 plaintiffs should be prepared to kick off in 2024.

The judges said the parties should be prepared to advance additional trial tracks promptly after the selection of the Track 1 discovery pool.

The sprawling litigation surrounding the Camp Lejeune Marine base, in coastal North Carolina, stems from Congress’ passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act last year. Since then, there have been 93,000 administrative claims filed with the Navy under the law and roughly 1,100 suits pending in the Eastern District with the possibility of up to a million suits in the future, the judges said in an order earlier this month when rejecting an attorney’s bid to unseat the plaintiffs’ leadership.

Those suits involve nearly 40 diseases said to be connected to the water at Camp Lejeune, which allegedly contained excessive levels of chlorinated solvents and other contaminants. As a result, there’s been a “dire need” to manage the extremely high number of Camp Lejeune cases in the court, as well as the administrative claims that may become cases, which is why the judges said they appointed the leadership committee of nine attorneys in July, including Zina Bash of Keller Postman LLC and J. Edward Bell of the Bell Law Group.

Representatives for the government did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The government is represented by Adam Bain and Haroon Anwar of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Bell Legal Group, Keller Postman LLC, Ward and Smith PA, the Dowling Firm and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, among others.

The cases are In Re: Camp Lejeune Water Litigation v. United States of America, case number 7:23-cv-00897, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

–Additional reporting by Emily Field. Editing by Karin Roberts.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.