March 24, 2015

Lawyer Suing Neighbor for Smoking Is Defender Of Corporations Accused Of Toxic Smoke


There’s been recent media coverage of how two Washington DC lawyers named Brendan and Nessa Coppinger have sued and convinced a local judge to issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting their neighbor, Edwin Gray, from smoking in his Capitol Hill row house, which adjoins theirs.

Gray has lived in his home for 51 years; the Coppingers moved into theirs last fall. The Coppingers say that cigarette and marijuana smoke is seeping into their bedroom and their child’s bedroom. The Washington Post quoted Nessa Coppinger, 38 and pregnant with the couple’s second child, as saying, “This is a health concern. We don’t smoke. We don’t allow smoking in our home.” They are seeking $500,000 in damages from Gray and his sister, who owns the house.

I don’t begrudge the Coppingers for seeking to be free of harmful smoke. And they say they tried to reach agreement with their neighbor to fix the ventilation situation before filing suit. (Gray’s sister says she didn’t like the terms the Coppingers presented.)

What interested me about the case was that the Post and other media sources described Nessa Coppinger as “an environmental lawyer.” In Washington, that could mean a number of things.  So I looked her up.  For Nessa Coppinger, a principal of the 95-lawyer firm Beveridge & Diamond, it means that some of her accomplishments are explained on the firm’s website like this:

Nessa Horewitch Coppinger’s practice focuses on complex environmental litigation, including multi-district litigation and multi-party product liability, toxic tort, and class action matters… She has achieved favorable results for states, counties, and corporate clients, including Fortune 100 companies … Examples of Ms. Coppinger’s experience include: Defending numerous products liability and toxic tort cases related to alleged groundwater contamination involving a gasoline additive in both federal and state courts….

In other words, some of Coppinger’s work involves trying to defeat the legal claims of people who contend they have been harmed by toxic pollution.

One example: According to court records, since March 2014, Coppinger has been one of two lead attorneys representing Suncoke Energy, Inc., a billion dollar corporation that calls itself “the largest independent producer of high-quality metallurgical coke in the Americas,” and its subsidiary Haverhill North Coke Co. in a suit brought by Glenn and Kelly Graff and Hildreth and Peggy Maddox, four residents of Franklin Furnace, Ohio. The lawsuit, filed in 2009, alleges that:

sludge-like deposits, strong odors, particulates, lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium, creosote, coal tar pitch, coal tar pitch volatiles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (e.g., benzo(a) pyrene and chrysene) (“PAHs”), sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, dioxins, volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”), hydrochloric acid (“HCL”), volatiles, carbon monoxide, benzene, flue gas, chemical clouds and haze, other solid and hazardous wastes, other hazardous substances and pollutants, and mixtures containing such substances (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Noxious and Hazardous Substances”) have been and continue to be released from the Haverhill North Coke Company plant into the environment at and about the plant. Such Noxious and Hazardous Substances are known to be associated with and to result from coke oven operations.

The suit contends that these toxic substances have polluted the plaintiffs’ air, soil, surface water, and groundwater. The Graffs and Maddoxes assert that the plant and coke ovens operated by Coppinger’s now-client “emitted and released blue/gray Noxious and Hazardous Substances-containing clouds or haze” that reached the plaintiffs’ property. As a result:

Plaintiffs and other property owners are generally subjected to foul odors that include burnt-rubber odors, sulfur odors, a rotten egg odor, chemical odor, coal odor, tar odor, and coke oven odors. Visible Deposits have accumulated on the neighboring properties, including Plaintiffs’ properties, after these events….

Plaintiffs and other Franklin Furnace residents have repeatedly experienced and continue to experience burning sensations in their eyes and throats, sore throats, headaches, problems breathing, and/or have been subjected and continue to be subjected to extremely strong odors….

The Graffs and Maddoxes further allege — and, to be clear, all of these claims are yet to be proven — that the emissions from the plant operated by Coppinger’s now-client have forced them to restrict their outdoor activities. And they say they “are concerned and apprehensive about risks to their and their family members’ health from their past and ongoing exposure to said substances.”

In contrast to the prompt court order that the Coppingers, who are represented by a lawyer in Nessa Coppinger’s firm, obtained from a DC judge to halt Edwin Gray from smoking in his house, the lawyers for the Graffs and Maddoxes have spent more than five years skirmishing in court with SunCoke’s legal team, which now includes Ms. Coppinger, over what documents must be exchanged.

I have emailed Nessa Coppinger to seek her comment, and particularly to ask whether her family’s situation with smoke in their home had in any way altered her perspective on the toxic tort defense work she does.  She hasn’t responded yet.

This article also appears on Huffington Post and DeSmogBlog

  • Jack Listerio

    OSHA also took on the passive smoking fraud and this is what came of it:

    Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition

    This sorta says it all

    These limits generally are based on assessments of health risk and calculations of concentrations that are associated with what the regulators believe to be negligibly small risks. The calculations are made after first identifying the total dose of a chemical that is safe (poses a negligible risk) and then determining the concentration of that chemical in the medium of concern that should not be exceeded if exposed individuals (typically those at the high end of media contact) are not to incur a dose greater than the safe one.

    So OSHA standards are what is the guideline for what is acceptable ”SAFE LEVELS”


    All this is in a small sealed room 9×20 and must occur in ONE HOUR.

    For Benzo[a]pyrene, 222,000 cigarettes.

    “For Acetone, 118,000 cigarettes.

    “Toluene would require 50,000 packs of simultaneously smoldering cigarettes.

    Acetaldehyde or Hydrazine, more than 14,000 smokers would need to light up.

    “For Hydroquinone, “only” 1250 cigarettes.

    For arsenic 2 million 500,000 smokers at one time.

    The same number of cigarettes required for the other so called chemicals in shs/ets will have the same outcomes.

    So, OSHA finally makes a statement on shs/ets :

    Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)…It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded.” -Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Sec’y, OSHA.

    Why are their any smoking bans at all they have absolutely no validity to the courts or to science!

    • RealityAlwaysBites

      Puritans can’t understand facts. They have one braincell, its kept busy trying to keep them from messing themselves, its why when they talk they smell bad.

  • Jack Listerio

    Schuman’s Expert Witnesses Testify in Secondhand Smoke Trial

    The plaintiff’s expert witnesses spoke up on day three of David Schuman’s case against his housing cooperative, Greenbelt Homes, Inc. (GHI), for its failure to prohibit the nuisance created by his townhome neighbors, the Popovics’, secondhand smoke.

    Courtroom and Plaintiff’s Townhome Register Similar Carcinogen Levels

    But, an incident from Repace’s testimony Thursday came back into play Friday during cross examination. Goecke pointed out that on Thursday, while demonstrating the carcinogen monitor, Repace had measured the concentration of carcinogens in the court room — which is in a smoke-free building — and the amount he recorded there was similar to what Repace had reported recording in Schuman’s townhome in July of 2011.

    As you can see even in a smokefree courtroom the same so called levels were read in Schumans own Kitchen in his house! The so called scientist was none other than a fellow prohibitionist and JUNK SCIENTIST,Tornado Repace!

    Talk about being laughed out of court……………….btw these prohibitionists create whats called ”risk assesment studies” Purely fictional and nothing more than statistical magic to create fear and bigotry against smokers!

  • Jack Listerio

    There is no danger from second-hand smoke, period. In America, the Baby Boom produced over 75 million kids, and smoking was very popular during that time.

    Exposure to SHS was prevalent everywhere people went: in homes, yards, parks and playgrounds; in dime stores, drugstores, supermarkets – in every store, as well as banks, post offices, libraries, anywhere that people gathered. Also in cars, buses, taxis, planes and trains.

    There were smokers in diners, cafes, restaurants; in hotels, barber shops, beauty salons; in hospitals, waiting rooms, stations, lobbies, airports, and in all vacation spots and summer camps. There was smoking at swimming pools, beaches and all the sports venues; at parties, church events, any type of social gathering. There was smoking from neighbors, visitors, relatives and older siblings; from babysitters, coaches, even from den mothers and scout leaders.

    Think about it. Children were constantly exposed to SHS everywhere they went, every day of their lives. The only exception were classrooms and churches.

    Did they all die? Did they get diseased? Did they develop asthma? Nope. But according to today’s whingers (it’s for the cheeeeeldren!), none of those kids should have made it past the crib. With all that SHS exposure, the schools should have been half-empty on a daily basis, with hoards of absentee kids filling up the hospitals. Such was never the case, and you can’t re-write the history. All those kids managed perfectly well. These are facts.

    All the anti-smokers got is junk science, propaganda and drivel..

  • Jack Listerio

    The myth of smoking during pregnancy being harmful

    Wed, 30 Oct 2013 17:51 CDT

    In about 1999 I was asked to analyze the data of pregnant women with respect to smoking for a major health insurance company. They were running a campaign to get pregnant women to stop smoking and they expected to find interesting data to support their case.

    I used to teach college courses covering the topic. The text books said that smoking causes underweight premature babies. Because of this babies of smoking mothers are more likely to have birth defects. With alcohol, two drinks a day was considered safe, but with tobacco, there was no safe threshold. I thought this was rather strange. You smoke one cigarette while pregnant and you are more likely to have birth defects? Even for a hard core health fanatic that is difficult to believe.

    Here is what was found in the data. Babies of smoking mothers average weight was 3232 grams (7.1 lbs.). Babies of non-smoking mothers averaged 3398 grams (7.5 lbs.). That is about a half pound difference and it is statistically significant. Seven pounds is a good healthy birth weight that does not set off any alarms. Babies are considered underweight if they are less than 2270 grams (5 lbs.). 4.5% of smoking mothers babies were underweight and 3.3% of non-smoking mothers babies were underweight. This difference is not significant. There is no indication here of a health risk from smoking based on weight.

    The other risk factor is length of term. Normal gestation is 253 days. 4% of smoking mothers did not go to term and 7.8% of non-smoking mothers did not go to term. Smoking mothers did better than non-smoking mothers but the difference was not significant. There was obviously no risk from reduced term for smoking mothers.

    Because the non-smoking mothers had heavier babies one would expect more C-Sections from the non-smoking mothers. There were about 20% more. This is significant at the .05 level but not the .01 level so you could argue the significance either way depending on your bias. The data here is limited because only 5% of pregnant women smoked but the trend for smoking mothers was toward less babies retained in the hospital, less C-Sections, insignificantly fewer pre-term deliveries and an insignificant increase in clinically underweight babies.

    This data can be explained by assuming that when pregnant women are stressed, they self medicate to relieve the stress. Non-smoking women tend to eat more causing the baby to be larger and more difficult to deliver. This can also cause other problems. Smoking women tend to light up when under stress. This is less harmful to the baby than over-eating. For this reason smoking mothers tended to have better outcomes for baby and mother. They also cost less for the insurance company.

    You might be interested in knowing that this information was not used. I was told that the medical insurance business is highly regulated by the government. The company was not allowed to tell the truth about these results even though it was better for the insurance company and for the patients.

    I do not think these results suggest that women should start smoking when they get pregnant. I do think it indicates that it is very poor practice to try to get smoking mothers to stop smoking when they get pregnant.
    About me

    I have a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and have worked in both research and teaching. I am a health nut and do not endorse smoking or care to be around people smoking. I was shocked by these results. My bias if any is certainly against these results. However I think it is horrible to withhold information form people and intentionally give them bad advice to advance a political agenda.

    • RealityAlwaysBites

      Puritans historically have always ignored reality, their tiny defective brain can’t handle facts nor even understand if explained at length, like you would to a small simple minded child.

  • Really?

    The young, wealthy, recently married lawyers recently purchased the renovated 100+ year old row house. During remodeling, all existing wall plaster was removed, so the new owner could enjoy the look of the 100 year old brick wall that separated the two rowhouses. The problem is, 100 year old brick walls seep odors and smells. If the existing plaster was not removed by the new owners, no odors would leak between the two homes.

    So, the new owner removed the plaster, then complained that odors are leaking between the common wall, and sued to force the other owner to seal their wall to prevent smoke from entering their unit. The new owners? Two lawyers. The people they want to force to perform the repairs: a poor family that has lived in the house for 50+ years.

    • Steve Salisbury

      Really? You mention alot of stuff not mentioned in the above article. Are you am interested party trolling the internet?

      • RealityAlwaysBites

        So because it isn’t in the article means someone can’t know something else pertaining to the situation.

        You sound like a bottom feeding lawyer.

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  • Dcist

    Looks like Johnson is a hypocrite too. She complained about dilapidated properties and a building blocking light next to one of her apparently multiple dc properties to the dc gov. yet she can’t understand why the coppinger would be upset about constant smoke in their home? Pg 123.
    Geez. She must be a slum lord.

  • RealityAlwaysBites

    Typical behavior of a parasitic life form, suck the life out of everything around with a heartbeat.
    The lawyer scum needs to be evicted and both lose their jobs, how sad karma doesn’t make house calls.

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