(Washington, D.C.) – "We
are extremely pleased at the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent
decision that allows Vietnam veterans who are suffering from the devastating
effects of exposure to Agent Orange to have access to the American justice
system,” said VVA national president Thomas H. Corey.
June 9, 2003, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Dow Chemical
Company, et al. v .Stephenson, et al., which involved two Vietnam
veterans whose current illnesses did not manifest until after all of the
money that had been set aside under a legal settlement had been depleted.
In 1984, Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Chemical Co., the principal
manufacturers of the chemical defoliant known as Agent Orange, settled a
class- action lawsuit brought by Vietnam veterans whose illnesses were the
result of their exposure to the herbicide. Once the settlement funds had
been exhausted, the Federal judge who presided over the original lawsuit
refused to allow Vietnam veterans whose diseases were diagnosed thereafter
to sue the chemical companies, ruling that such actions were barred by the
earlier settlement. Two of these veterans appealed their cases to the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which held that their lawsuits
could proceed because their interests were not adequately represented in the
settled class action.
association of business groups appealed the Second Circuit’s decision to the
Supreme Court, arguing that allowing settled class actions to be reopened
would deter future settlements. With one justice abstaining, the Court
returned one of the veteran’s cases to the Second Circuit with instructions
to reconsider the matter in accordance with a recent Supreme Court opinion.
In the other veteran’s case, however, the remaining justices voted in a 4-4
split. Corey explained, “The effect of the deadlocked vote is that the
Supreme Court has affirmed the Second Circuit’s decision to allow more
recently ill Vietnam veterans with Agent Orange-related diseases to exercise
their Constitutional right to legal redress.” Corey added, “Our regret is
that it has taken such a long time for affected Vietnam veterans to receive
the justice they deserve.”
VVA is one of several
Congressionally-chartered veterans service organizations to have joined the
Supreme Court action as a friend of the Court.