Judge Orders Web Site Operators to Deliver Documents to Court
Associated Press, 10/04/2000
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A dead lawsuit is still alive for the paper industry and the operators of a Web site who maintain that carbonless copy paper poses disabling health risks to office workers.
A federal judge on Tuesday gave the operators 10 days to give him documents from the lawsuit.
The leading manufacturer of such paper, Appleton Papers Inc. of Wisconsin, says no scientific evidence supports fears of disease, but maintains that many of the documents contain trade secrets that should be allowed to remain confidential.
The paper is being studied by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The case stems from a 1990 lawsuit brought by Nancy Rutigliano against Appleton, another paper maker, Mead Corp., of Dayton, Ohio, and others, that U.S. District Judge John C. Lifland dismissed in 1996 without a trial.
Rutigliano, a Demarest native who now lives in Gloucester, Mass., said in an interview that she got 21 boxes of documents after the case ended from staff at her lawyer's office.
Rutigliano said she was unaware of Lifland's protective order and that the release by the law office was inadvertent.
But after learning of their contents, "It was a moral and ethical decision to expose this," Rutigliano said.
Rutigliano, 39, said her 1987 worker's compensation claim is still pending, but that she collects Social Security disability benefits.
She said she was 23 when she developed several ailments, including autoimmune, brain and vascular disease, while working as a dispatcher at Metro Fuel Oil Co., of Ridgefield, N.J., that she links to handling and being near carbonless copy paper.
Appleton contends that the 2,500 pages were protected because some contain private business information.
Rutigliano said she made copies for Sharon McLaughlin of Ithaca, N.Y., who operates a Web site with Brenda B. Smith, of Virginia Beach, Va.
Interviewed later, both said they get Social Security disability due to a variety of diseases, but have been denied worker's compensation.
Some of the documents had been posted on their site, leading to court efforts by Appleton in several states to have the documents returned to the companies involved.
Also pending is a class-action lawsuit by people claiming injury filed in California charging that carbonless copy paper violates that state's Proposition 65, which requires warnings for products containing carcinogens and other hazardous chemicals.
The latest Appleton effort came Tuesday in a hearing before Lifland that Smith attended via teleconference. McLaughlin did not participate.
Lifland said his protective order has been violated. "There's a suspicion on my part that Miss Smith and Miss McLaughlin are playing a game with this court," he said.
He questioned why Appleton did not seek to hold the site operators in contempt.
Appleton lawyer Anita Hotchkiss said the company wants to avoid creating a martyr by jailing someone, and that neither have "deep pockets" from which to recover monetary sanctions.
"We want to stop the allegations and misrepresentations of what the documents contain," Hotchkiss said.
Smith told Lifland she has complied with various orders by removing documents from the site and providing a list of documents, but that she could not turn them over because McLaughlin has the documents.
She said they wanted an "impartial" party to review the documents to determine which contain trade secrets.
Lifland responded he might be the person to do that. Depending on when he signs a formal order, the documents could be due as early as Oct. 16.
Hotchkiss said that in some instances, only portions of the documents might need to be blacked out to preserve business secrets.
Reached later, McLaughlin said she was unsure if she could comply with Lifland's order because she already has a similar order pending from a federal judge in Syracuse, N.Y., who has given her time to find a new attorney to help her decide how to respond.
"I'm afraid if I give these documents up, they're going to be buried," said McLaughlin, 53, who had worked for the Tompkins County (N.Y.) Department of Social Services.
She said she has suffered brain, kidney and liver disease from carbonless paper.
The paper is coated with "microcapsules" of toxic chemicals that react to the pressure of pens, but also burst during storage and require a cool, well-ventilated storage area.
Smith, 52, said she became ill while working as a customer service representative for Bell Atlantic in Virginia Beach, and now suffers from several ailments, including occupational asthma, chronic fatigue, and temporary sudden losses of vision, as well as brain damage.
"It's mostly women who are injured, and it's mostly women who work in the kind of environments that Sharon and I did, offices," Smith said.
From the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
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