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Published: Saturday, 4/30/2005

Activist group to provide Sunoco with health survey

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ohio Citizen Action yesterday agreed to provide Sunoco Inc. redacted copies of health questionnaires filled out by 473 East Toledo and Oregon residents who live near the company's local refinery.

The activist group said it was doing so to comply with an order Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Ruth Ann Franks issued five months ago.

In the order, Judge Franks agreed with Toledo lawyer Lou Tosi that he was entitled to copies of the health questionnaires to defend Sunoco from a class-action lawsuit that a Detroit law firm, Macuga & Liddle, filed against the refinery a year ago.

Mr. Tosi, of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP, has been retained by Sunoco for that case, in which

Macuga & Liddle allege refinery emissions have affected the health of nearby residents.

Fifteen residents are named as plaintiffs in Macuga & Liddle's suit, but an attorney for the firm has said hundreds may be entitled to compensation if the action is successful.

Ohio Citizen Action resisted Judge Franks' order on the grounds that it has not had a direct relationship with Macuga & Liddle, and that the group's surveys weren't scientific.

Sandy Buchanan, Ohio Citizen Action executive director, has said the 473 residents her group polled during a door-to-door survey in August were led to believe all information would be kept confidential. She previously accused Mr. Tosi of trying to harass and intimidate her organization. She maintained yesterday that Sunoco could do its own surveying.

The settlement filed yesterday allows Ohio Citizen Action to redact names and addresses of anyone who's not among 15 plaintiffs named in the class-action lawsuit. Only one of the 473 respondents is among those 15, Ms. Buchanan said.

Numbered street blocks must be substituted for addresses. The group has seven days to comply with all provisions.

"We got what we wanted. We protected the identities," Ms. Buchanan said.

Mr. Tosi could not be reached for comment. But he previously said information gathered by Ohio Citizen Action is necessary for his defense. He has claimed the activist group is legally connected to the 15 plaintiffs, was gathering evidence for Macuga & Liddle, and that residents who agreed to be surveyed became a party to the class-action lawsuit "whether they knew it or not."

As part of the settlement, Judge Franks denied Mr. Tosi's request to have Ohio Citizen Action pay his attorney fees and court costs to obtain the questionnaires.

Ohio Citizen Action also agreed to drop an appeal it filed in U.S. District Court, seeking a ruling from Judge James G. Carr over whether information its canvassers gathered is covered under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which broadened patient rights to confidentiality.

Ohio Citizen Action sent a letter this month to Sunoco's corporate headquarters, calling for a meeting between a senior vice president and residents who live near the refinery. In the letter, the group claims its members have sent more than 12,000 letters, postcards, and petition signatures to the company.

Sunoco spokesman Olivia Summons has said the refinery has had regular community outreach meetings and is sensitive to residents' concerns.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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