A county judge has dismissed the bulk of a lawsuit against Chandler regarding the opening of a controversial medical research facility, but the litigants say it’s not over.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul McMurdie dismissed four of the five charges made by Washington DC-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine against the city regarding zoning and open meeting laws.
The Jan. 14 ruling sided with the city of Chandler. It stated that the plaintiffs in the case didn’t have the right to sue because their claim that Covance Inc’s. 300,000-square-foot laboratory, which will perform testing on lab animals on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, would not personally damage them.
The lawsuit was filed in July by PRCM and seven Chandler residents, most of whom live within a mile of the construction site. The litigants say they are concerned about Covance’s record on public health and animal welfare issues.
The lawsuit asked the court to void the building permit and rezoning that enabled Covance to break ground on their facility in the Chandler Airpark at the southwest corner of Gilbert and Ryan roads.
Covance is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit and continues construction on its facility, slated for a first quarter 2009 opening.
“We are pleased that the judge has ruled in the favor of the city on key parts of the lawsuit brought by PRCM and other animal rights extremists. We remain confident that the remaining count of the case is without merit and that the city will prevail on it,” said Camilla Strongin, Covance spokesperson. “The tactics of extremists against Covance and other medical research organizations are a disservice to the millions of people in the Chandler community and nationwide who rely on medical research to make sure that new medicines are safe, effective and reach those in need as quickly as possible.”
McMurdie didn’t throw out the allegation that city leaders colluded with Covance officials, violating the Arizona Open Meeting Act. The lawsuit alleges city officials participated in non-public meetings in which they discussed Covance’s plan to secretly abandon its original site in the Price Corridor, which was zoned for agriculture, in favor of the rezoned Airpark property.
The move avoided a contentious public process and thwarted a future referendum because the Airpark site was already zoned for industry.
Kinburn said PCRM has a very strong case and will continue to forge ahead.
“We’re disappointed the judge did dismiss a few of the charges but he definitely left us with a lot to work with,” said Dan Kinburn, PCRM’s general counsel. “I think Covance has to be disappointed the suit wasn’t thrown out altogether.”
Kinburn said PCRM is funding the lawsuit and will continue to pursue the case.
“The next step would include depositions by all of the top Covance officials, the City Council and the city’s top officials,” Kinburn said. “Residents have a right to ask questions under oath to see if this was an illegal backroom deal.”
City Attorney Michael House said if PCRM pursues the case, they’ll just be “throwing money down a rathole.
“They (PCRM) have one claim left – that officials violated the open meeting law – that did not happen and there is no violation,” House said. “These plaintiffs cannot win. This case is over.”