Mann vs. Ford: The Denouement

Posted on 26 July 2011

I have a personal saying, “There is no justice in this world, but there is the law.”   But after seeing the staggering denouement of the Mann vs. Ford case, I am no longer confident in the law.  I’d promised to recap that denouement for you, as per the HBO film that aired last Tuesday, July 19, 2011.

Here goes:

1.  After reviewing a wide body of evidence, our judicial system deemed that the Ramapough Native Americans were within their rights to take Ford Motor Company to court.   But that’s where things got hairy.

2.  Because of the number of plaintiffs, 650 families in all, the judge indicated that it would take a good decade to try this as a single, class action case.  He also indicated that the plaintiffs, who are not wealthy people, might run out of money needed to pay their legal fees long before that.  He intimated that Ford might not want to sink that much money and time into the case, as well.

3.  The judge then made an official recommendation, which would have been enforced, that the case be divided into 6 or 7 separate cases, all tried simultaneously in different courtrooms, under the same roof.  Reason?  The expert witnesses needed to testify could literally go from one hearing to another in a single day, thus reducing the timeframe that would have been required to try the case either as a single case, or as multiple cases running sequentially (one after the other, chronologically).   A date in April of 2008 was then set for the trials to begin.

4.  The very day on which the trials were scheduled to begin Ford Motor Company posted a huge reduction in the value of their stock.  Despite the Stock Market crash of seven months prior, Ford’s stock was plodding along at a somewhat depressed but fairly even pace.  In other words, there were no serious dips in the value of their stock prior to the Ramapoughs’ lawsuit going live in court.

Was this sudden dip on the day of a trial truly a coincidence?  Did someone at Ford lie about the value of that stock?  Or did it go higher? Was someone at the SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission) paid off to look away?  If you think this is paranoia, read on.

5.  The case never did go to trial.  Ford offered the plaintiffs a settlement, as did the township of Ringwood, New Jersey, which approved the building of the Ford plant.  Ringwood kicked in approximately $1.5 million, bringing the total, with the lion’s share paid by Ford, to a “whopping” $12 million.  Divide $12 million by 650 families, and what do you get?  Not much, that’s what you get.

6.  The Ramapoughs were unhappy with the amount offered but accepted it because … based upon Ford’s earnings, and the numerous public reports that followed of the automotive giant’s financial tumble, the Ramapoughs had assumed that the company would go bankrupt, thereby leaving them with no restitution whatsoever.

7.  The $12 million was divided as equitably as possible among the surviving Ramapoughs, as per their own criteria (those who had suffered the worst received the most amount of money).  The highest per-family payout was $8K.  Considering that the average cost of a modest funeral in New Jersey is about $10K, that wasn’t even enough to buy the dead.  And, over the five-year span that it took to film the meat of this grueling and ultimately insulting process, 30 more Ramapoughs had died from cancers linked to the toxins on their land.

8.  Ford never apologized.  In lieu of an apology, which would have indicated their guilt, their legal counsel read a 3-sentence statement in court, a statement that basically exonerated the corporation from any wrongdoing. The $12 million was the end of it: Ford made no attempt to clean up the devastation they had wrought.

9.  A year after the settlement was offered and accepted, Ford posted profits of $2.7 billion.

A year later, in 2010, in the throes of a tanking U.S. economy, Ford Motor Company posted profits of $6.6 billion, the highest income earned in 11 years!

Is this justice?

And do you even care?

If not, you should.  It is now estimated that 74 million Americans live within dangerous proximity to Superfund sites.

What can you do about it?

Not much, apparently, except move away and hope for the best, if you’re already living on or near a Superfund site.  Not even the government is on your side.  This was the largest case of its kind in the United States of America and it was a travesty, a miscarriage of justice.

What you can do is examine very closely those to whom you give your votes.  Look closely at the performance of the politicians you back and trace their allegiances.  In other words, determine in whose corporate pockets your politicians live, and in whose they don’t.  Bring pressure to bear upon them, as is your right as an American citizen.  Look closely, also, at any huge institution in which you may invest; i.e., purchase a high-ticket item, such as car or a home.

Don’t lose hope: it is your right to protest peacefully and to sue another party for wrongdoing.  It’s your right to post information on the Internet and garner support for your cause.  It’s your right, and that of your loved ones’, to live on clean land and drink clean water.

Related Articles:

Mann v. Ford: An HBO Documentary

A Blind Eye: The Plight of the Ramapoughs

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- who has written 225 posts on Write On New Jersey.

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10 Responses to “Mann vs. Ford: The Denouement”

  1. Cassie Wexler says:

    I have now read all three articles by Kathleen Felleca on this site, concerning this HBO special. HBO is to be congratulated on bringing this to light and so is Ms. Felleca for taking the time to prepare an in depth series of articles. What was done to these poor people defies the imagination. Obviously, neither Ford nor our own government gives a damn. They say that what comes around goes around. I hope that it does.

  2. Areeth Nanda says:

    Clearly, there is only one form of justice here. Don’t buy a Ford vehicle, ever, and email all of these articles to everyone you know.

  3. Chris says:

    12 mill / 650 is not 8k. (and you say that is the HIGHEST payout to a family) It should be ~18,461 PER family. Where did all that money go if the highest payout was only $8k?

  4. LB says:

    they got a verrrry little amount per family/per person but it is NOT true that it was only 8k. As chris says it comes out to 18 k plus per fam…but i believe some families got nothing if nobody is sick yet or couldnt prove connection and some individuals who have suffered greatly got 20 plus for 1 person. it depended on the effect. But 20k is rediculously low for someone who has spent years sick & in constant pain and/or succumbed to their disease. U can trip in shoprite and get more than that 🙁

  5. Kathleen Felleca says:

    Thank you, all. Chris and LB, English is my forte; obviously, it is not Math! I’ll tell you honestly, I cried copiously as I watched this program; that is why I had to see it in three segments, thus the three articles. I guess that’s how I made the mathematical error.

    As I understood it, the families received their payouts in accordance with the nature and degree of their illnesses — and these decisions were arrived at by consensus. In NYC, you cannot even bury a person for less than $13K, and that’s a very modest funeral. I can only imagine the astronomical medical bills some of these poor people have incurred, not to mention the clinical horrors and daily knowledge that nothing will be done to remedy the situation. God bless them is right, since neither the government nor Ford seems to give a damn.

  6. Tammy says:

    I have emailed this story to everyone at work..I have even stated that I am ashamed to even own a Ford. I am also ashamed to call Ford and Amercan made company.. This company was only looking out for themselves, and their pocket… To think that this court case was settled not very long ago. leads me to believe they still have no heart- Just like these big oil companies.. I pray this case eats at the heart, of every Ford owner/stock holder etc. that had any part of the decision to give the Ramapo people so little in this settlement. They should be ashamed and I vow to never own another Ford for as long as I live.

  7. bdegrand says:

    Before you pass judgement on this one sided bias case, please read the rest of the story that HBO failed to include, since it totally contradicted their accusations. Go to (ringwoodsite
    I was shocked at Ford like most people after the HBO film, but now that I have the rest of the was not Ford but Ringwood and the developer who built those 50 new homes in 1994 directly over the waste site. Trust me, it was hard to get the info since it seems HBO doesn’t want to lose any negative attention. Check it out.

  8. Gary Andreasen says:

    I just watched this movie tonight (I had recorded it on the DVR). The $12 million was gross and the lawyer’s cut was deducted from that sum. What was left was to be given to the claimants. This whole movie was sickening as to how these people were treated by Ford. The movie never said that it was Ford who built the houses. It stated that Ford was fully aware of the contamination (as per Ford internal documents) but still donated the land to a nonprofit organization that builds houses for lower income families. This organization was never made aware of the dangers and then built the homes for the unsuspecting people. Ford got a nice tax write-off for its “generosity” and the residents got cancer, miscarriages, diabetes and a host of other diseases. The outcome was a real travesty of justice.

  9. Doug Uuu says:

    Can`t understand how people can be so crule to others with no reguard to humans, Ford and the other car compianies are all corrupt and so is our goverment, look the other way is there motto, rich get richer poor get poorer, they dodn`t care how we die as long as we all die, so they will inherite the earth, the RICH that is.

  10. Chuck Stead says:

    I have grown up in the Ramapo Valley and have known Ramapoughs my whole life. Currently, I am working with the Town of Ramapo on remediation efforts with Ford concerning the dump sites on the NY side of the border (yes, thats right it aint just in Ringwood). This past summer (2013) we completed excavation of 40,000 tons of contamination from the Ramapo well field (yes, I said well field). Ford paid for this at a cost of $14 million plus. Come 2015, we will start on phase two of the clean-up, in Torne Valley of Ramapo, NY. Yes, we are working with Ford at getting this done and as we continue to achieve this our eyes are on Ringwood, NJ. It is our hope that we will be able to fully remediate Ringwood and bring justice to the Ramapoughs. The biggest problem with Ringwood is the paint sludge down in the old 19th century mines. In order to extract it from there the mines need to be pumped out and drained, this water needs to be fully treated before it can return to the watershed, but in addition the drawing of water from those depths draws water from elsewhere underground and can initiate massive sinkholes. Sinkholes are a very real issue for the Ramapoughs who live there. So yes, I strongly support full removal of the sludge but we need to be very careful about how this is done. Ford argues that removal of the sludge in the mines is too dangerous, they have a point but as we all know in the final analysis it is the cost of such an operation that matters to industry. And as far as the danger is concerned, the place currently is dangerous thanks to the dumping of the paint sludge, so it seems that risk is a way of life for the Ramapoughs, either way. We will continue to press for full recovery.
    Chuck Stead
    Prof of Environmental Studies, Ramapo College NJ
    Cornell Coooperative Extension of Rockland County NY

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