Stinson Leonard Street Attorneys Named 2013 Attorneys of the Year By Minnesota Lawyer

Press Release

Byron Starns singled out for his career-long environmental law work that has shaped many of Minnesota's and the nation’s environmental policies.

Doug Peterson, Dan Oberdorfer, Wade Davis, Andy Davis and Jennifer Ives recognized for achieving one of the largest judgments in Minnesota involving a family business shareholder dispute and punitive damages.

Stinson Leonard Street is pleased to announce that attorney Byron Starns and the attorney team of Doug Peterson, Dan Oberdorfer, Wade Davis, Andy Davis and Jennifer Ives have been selected as 2013 Attorneys of the Year by Minnesota Lawyer. They were honored at an awards event on Thursday, Feb. 20, and profiled in a special section in the Feb. 24 issue of Minnesota Lawyer.

Byron Starns: Reserve Mining established important new environmental policies

Starns is honored for his career-long body of work in environmental law, which has made a direct, significant and lasting impact on the people and the environmental policies of Minnesota. In particular, he is recognized for the significant role he played in the Reserve Mining case, one of the longest environmental enforcement trials in history, which established environmental law and policy at the national and state levels. In fact, the federal and state appellate decisions in Reserve are considered seminal cases in environmental jurisprudence.

Lake Superior was the battleground in this iconic litigation against the Reserve processing plant at Silver Bay. Lake Superior contains over 1/12th of the world’s fresh water and its unsurpassed clarity and water quality are the key to the water quality in the lower Great Lakes. The litigation first attracted national attention because of the enormous size of Reserve’s discharge, which dumped 47 tons of waste into the Great Lake every minute. From 1956 to1980, Reserve discharged up to 67,000 tons a day of mineral processing waste into Lake Superior, more than America’s 10 next largest polluters combined. National attention intensified when it was discovered that the waste discharges into the air and Lake Superior contained asbestos fibers, which posed a risk to public health.

The case was an early—and extremely high profile—battle in the emerging environmental movement and it established guidance for resolution of what has been characterized as “one of the central dilemmas of environmental law”: In the face of scientific uncertainty regarding a threat to public health or the environment, how much of a burden should society be willing to bear to eliminate the risk?

Read more about the Reserve Mining case in this story by Minnesota Public Radio >>

Doug Peterson, Dan Oberdorfer, Wade Davis, Andy Davis and Jennifer Ives: A dramatic multi-year lawsuit results in a favorable outcome for an embattled businessman

Peterson, Oberdorfer, Davis, Davis and Ives are recognized for their work successfully litigating the more than six year-long dispute on behalf of Dan McGrath, a shareholder of Mankato-based family business MICO, against two other shareholders (his brother and half-brother). The lawsuit resulted in a series of judgments in the shareholder’s favor totaling almost $22 million, including punitive damages judgments against the defendant corporation and two principal shareholder/board members of almost $5 million total. It is one of the largest judgments of its kind in Minnesota involving a family business shareholder dispute and punitive damages. These remedies rest upon findings by the Nicolette County, Minnesota trial court that the defendants acted “fraudulently and deceptively” and in a manner that “posed a serious hazard to a significant portion of the public in areas where MICO has factories."

After unsuccessfully attempting to resolve matters and avoid litigation on numerous occasions, Dan McGrath sought judiciary relief by filing suit in 2006 against his shareholder brothers. Lawyers from Stinson Leonard Street’s Minneapolis and Mankato, Minn. offices litigated this multi-dimensional case through three trial phases: (1) A jury and bench trial on liability and compensatory damages, (2) a second phase on punitive damages that was also tried to both the jury and Court, and (3) a third phase on valuation and related issues that was tried only to the Court. In December 2012, a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the series of significant remedies awarded to McGrath. In early 2013, the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In the lawsuit, the judge and jury awarded McGrath damages under claims for tortious interference with contract, breach of fiduciary duty, unpaid bonus and profit sharing under Minnesota’s wage statute and as a whistleblower under Minnesota’s anti-retaliation statute. The Court also ordered the company to buy McGrath's shares under Minnesota’s corporate statutes, and ordered the defendants to reimburse him for most of the attorney’s fees and costs he needed to incur in order to protect his interests in the family business to which he had been devoted his entire working life.

This case is an important one in Minnesota because it illustrates a shifting tide among judges and juries—reflective of the sentiments of the general public—who are increasingly fed up with what they perceive to be questionable business practices. No longer reserved only for public companies, increasing scrutiny is also being placed on the activities of privately held businesses.

Read the MICO litigation coverage in the Star Tribune >>

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Amanda Bowling
Director of Marketing Communications

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