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Judge Dismisses 1 Case Against Lockheed Corp.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal judge Friday dismissed more than half a dozen civil claims against Lockheed Martin Corp. by Burbank residents who charged they were exposed to toxic chemicals from activities at the company’s now-closed warplane manufacturing plant.

The ruling has no effect on more than 3,000 civil lawsuits filed in state court by individual residents who allege they were sickened by chemicals used at the plant.

In the separate federal court action, U.S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer ruled that the plaintiffs, who have been trying to get their case certified as a federal court class action, did not file their medical claims in a timely manner and did not prove Lockheed Martin engaged in an “ultrahazardous activity,” which would subject the company to strict liability.

The suit involved chemical solvents, used in cleaning metals, soaking into the soil and contaminating underground drinking water supplies.

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“While there is a high risk of harm of disposing of chemicals in the ground near a highly populated area,” Pfaelzer wrote in her 15-page opinion, “the act of using solvents to clean metal parts in an industrial site was not an ultrahazardous activity.”

Both sides claimed the judge’s ruling as a victory.

A Lockheed Martin spokeswoman said the ruling showed that the company did not harm the public, and an attorney representing Burbank residents contended the ruling meant his clients could still proceed against Lockheed Martin for harm to their property.

Residents “have won an important victory that allows them to proceed against Lockheed Martin,” attorney Bruce L. Simon said in a statement. “The future health and safety of Burbank residents is at the core of this matter, and this is only round one of a long fight.”

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Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Gail Rymer disagreed, saying Pfaelzer’s decision spelled the end for the majority of claims against the company and ended the possibility of additional claims arising out of a federal class action suit in the future.

“We’re still sorting out the practical implications of the ruling,” Rymer said. “But we feel the decision clarifies what we have been saying all along--that Lockheed Martin’s operations in Burbank did not harm the public.”

The residents sought compensation for alleged negligence, personal injuries, property damage and medical monitoring, all of which were dismissed by Pfaelzer.

Left intact, however, was their request for damages arising out of cleanup work by the company as it closed the Burbank facility in the early 1990s.

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Two years ago Lockheed Martin paid $60 million to settle claims by 1,350 Burbank residents for damages arising out of the contamination. As word of the agreement leaked out, additional claimants filed suit.

Lockheed Martin was founded in Burbank more than 60 years ago. At its peak, the company employed nearly 100,000 people and churned out aircraft for World War II and the Cold War--including the P-39, the U-2 and the F-117A Stealth fighter. It was the home of the legendary “skunk works,” which designed advanced military planes.

In the late 1980s, Lockheed Martin began closing its Burbank facility and moved manufacturing to Palmdale and Marietta, Ga. The company’s head office is now in Bethesda, Md.

Last month, Lockheed Martin and other businesses reached an agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state attorney general’s office to pay $60 million as part of a 20-year commitment to clean contaminated water supplies under the city of Burbank.

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