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A Brief Summary Of A Civil Action

Sandra Watson
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A Brief Summary of A Civil Action
Chapters 1 and 2: The Woburn Families
From 1966 to 1986, more than a dozen cases of childhood leukemia hit the small town of Woburn,
Massachusetts. In the late 1970s, civil engineers discovered that local wells G and H were contaminated
with several suspected carcinogens, including trichloroethylene (TCE). The wells were subsequently
shut down. The town had a long history of industrial activity, including a number of tanneries. Two
major corporations, W.R. Grace Co. and Beatrice Foods, owned factories and plants in the area.
A group of the parents of children who had developed leukemia (some survived, though many died)
sought legal advice. They consulted Joe Mulligan, a Boston lawyer, and signed his firm to a contingency
contract to pursue a suit against anyone responsible for the contamination of the local wells. In early
1981, the Center for Disease Control issued a report on the Woburn cancer cluster that showed the
cancer rate was at least seven times higher than normal, but did not definitively connect the well
contamination with the leukemia cases.
Chapter 3: The Lawyer
Jan Schlictmann was a young lawyer with Joe Mulligan’s law firm, Reed & Mulligan, early in the Woburn
case. He had bounced around a number of jobs before discovering an interest in the law and attending
law school. He attempted to start his own firm, but ended up working at Reed & Mulligan in Boston
only a few years later. The Woburn case had been neglected at the firm, and Schlictmann began
working on it. He worked closely with Kevin Conway at the firm, who warned him that the Woburn case
was “a black hole.”
As the statute of limitations on the case approached, Schlictmann teamed up with a non-profit firm in
Washington, DC, that was looking for an environmental case to pursue. He turned the case over to the
firm but stayed on as local counsel. They filed a complaint eight days before the statute of limitations
ran in May 1982, claiming that Beatrice Foods and the W.R. Grace Company were responsible for
contaminating the wells and thereby causing the leukemia cluster in Woburn.
Chapter 4: Rule 11
Jerome Facher was an experienced trial lawyer in Boston. His firm represented Beatrice Foods, which
owned the Riley Tannery north of Woburn. William Cheeseman worked for another large Boston firm
that represented W.R. Grace Co., which owned a manufacturing plant north of Woburn. Cheeseman
specialized in pre-trial strategy rather than trials, and filed a Rule 11 motion against Schlictmann and the
firm in an effort to end the case immediately. The motion charged Schlictmann with filing a frivolous
and unfounded lawsuit, and with other suspect ethical behavior such as soliciting clients. The judge,
Walter Jay Skinner, held a hearing on the motion. Schlictmann refused to submit to cross-examination
by Cheeseman on the theory that doing so would violate his obligations to his clients. The hearing was
conducted by Judge Skinner based on submitted questions by Cheeseman, and the Rule 11 motion was



A Brief Summary Of A Civil Action

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