Menasha Corp. v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, No. 12-1720 (7th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
In 2010 the U.S. and Wisconsin sued, alleging that defendants polluted the Lower Fox River and Green Bay with PCBs, and had liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, for response costs and destruction of natural resources, estimated at $1.5 billion. The Justice Department submitted a proposed consent decree, negotiated among the state, defendants (Brown County and the City of Green Bay), and Indian tribes. The U.S. offered $4.5 million because federal agencies might have contributed to the pollution. Menasha opposed the decree and counterclaimed against the U.S. for costs that Menasha would incur if found liable. Ordinarily a non-party to a consent decree is not bound by it, but approval of the consent decree would otherwise extinguish Menasha’s claims. Menasha sought information under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that U.S. attorneys, being from defense and prosecution teams, actually have adverse interests, and that their communication concerning the case resulted in forfeiture of attorney work product privilege. The district court held that Menasha was entitled to the documents. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that Menasha’s claim actually amounted to assertion that the federal attorneys “ganged up” to reduce federal liability and that the documents are privileged.