3M Sues Law Firm for Switching Sides, Aiding MN AG

3M cited “betrayal” motivated by “greed” as a reason for Covington & Burling’s move to help the Minnesota attorney general in a lawsuit against the Maplewood-based company.

3M Company—which was sued by the state last year over alleged damage caused by the disposal of chemicals—is reportedly suing one of its former law firms for switching sides and aiding the Minnesota attorney general in the lawsuit against the company.

In its suit against national law firm Covington & Burling LLP, Maplewood-based 3M alleges that “betrayal” motivated by “greed” led the firm to aid the attorney general after having worked with 3M in the past, the Pioneer Press reported.

3M reportedly alleges that the firm’s switch was motivated by the possibility of huge legal fees. The state’s deal with Covington says the firm would be paid 25 percent of the first $75 million collected from 3M, 20 percent of the next $75 million, and 15 percent of anything over $150 million, according to the Pioneer Press.

3M said that Covington worked for the company on and off from the 1980s to 2010, and during those years “more than 165 Covington attorneys billed 3M millions of dollars,” the St. Paul newspaper reported. At one point, the firm reportedly worked for 3M on legal matters involving PFCs, or perfluorochemicals, which are at the center of the suit against 3M.

3M claims that Covington went from arguing that trace amounts of PFCs did not pose a risk to humans to arguing that exposure to those same chemicals is dangerous, according to the Pioneer Press.

3M claims that Covington went from arguing that trace amounts of PFCs did not pose a risk to humans to arguing that exposure to those same chemicals is dangerous, according to the Pioneer Press. (Read the full Pioneer Press story here.)

Covington, meanwhile, said in an e-mailed statement to Twin Cities Business that the state has “been a client of the firm in environmental matters for more than 15 years” and it agreed to represent the state after confirming that it “had no active matters for 3M and that there was no conflict based on any prior representation of 3M.”

“The 3M complaint against our law firm has the situation completely backwards in suggesting that the firm dropped a long-time client to represent the State,” Covington said. “To the contrary, the State, a long-time client, asked Covington to handle an important lawsuit on which it needed assistance. We reviewed the situation and appropriately decided to proceed with the representation.”

The firm added that it “takes its ethical responsibilities seriously and has acted in accord with all applicable ethical rules in connection with its representation of the State of Minnesota in litigation against 3M.” It said it intends to “defend itself vigorously against 3M’s lawsuit, which is without merit.”