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Class Action OKd Against Rocketdyne

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Essentially adding 200,000 or more new plaintiffs, a federal judge on Monday allowed Rocketdyne neighbors to press a class-action lawsuit against the aerospace giant, alleging that activities at four facilities fouled their property and harmed their health.

U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins granted class certification to the neighbors in a tentative ruling, allowing them to press their claims en masse rather than one at a time.

Collins denied a similar motion in October but allowed lawyers another attempt at meeting the exacting requirements of class-action law.

Conservatively, the technical decision expands the class of plaintiffs from the eight people named in the lawsuit to more than 200,000 people in the Simi and San Fernando valleys, plaintiffs’ lawyers said.

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Neighbors in the case demand compensation for property they claim was damaged by years of nuclear research and rocket engine testing at Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory, in the hills west of Chatsworth, and three other facilities in the west San Fernando Valley.

They also seek court-sponsored medical monitoring to ensure that any cancer or other illnesses they may develop are promptly detected.

The class includes anyone who currently owns property or has lived at any time since 1946 in the alleged “contamination area,” which covers about two-thirds of the area bounded by the Ventura, Moorpark and San Diego freeways and the Santa Susana Mountains.

Experts say the decision to certify the class will raise the stakes in the federal lawsuit, putting additional pressure on Boeing North American, Rocketdyne’s parent company, to settle the case and raising the amount of money that could be given to plaintiffs.

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Attorneys for the neighbors said the 16-month-old lawsuit is just beginning, despite Monday’s favorable ruling.

“It’s a long way to go from here,” said lawyer A. Barry Cappello.


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