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7th Circuit rules on attorney fee issues in brownfield case

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has mostly upheld an Indiana federal judge who’d ruled on the litigation costs and attorney fees involved in a Shell gas station brownfield case.

The 25-page opinion came today in Daniel J. and Pamela Wickens and Mark E. Shere v. Shell Oil Company, Nos. 09-2737 & 09-2620, which affirms and reverses in part a 2008 judgment from Judge Sarah Evans Barker in Indianapolis. The case dates back more than five years and involves a couple who were trying to sell their shoe shop when they discovered contaminated soil from a former fuel station on the Anderson property. Though they reached a settlement on most of the issues, the parties disagreed on various issues that included how attorney fees were calculated.

In its ruling today, the 7th Circuit held that Judge Barker correctly used a cut-off date for when Mark Shere’s legal work could stop being used to calculate the litigation costs and disbursements. The appellate panel upheld a $37,443.25 award for litigation costs and disbursements and denied the attorney’s request for prejudgment interest before Jan. 9, 2007; as well as ordered Shell to pay the $116,511.27 in corrective action costs incurred in May and June 2007.

The 7th Circuit did reverse Judge Barker on an issue about how Shere had billed for work that his wife -- an Indianapolis attorney who’s been on inactive status since 2005 – did during the litigation. The court made a “small calculation error” that it described as a clerical error that cost Mark Shere about $1,020.25 and should be corrected on remand.

A larger sticking point in the litigation was that Shere failed to disclose during the litigation that Employers Fire Insurance Company was funding the litigation. Judge Barker criticized Shere for not disclosing this, but didn’t go as far as determining fraudulent concealment as Shell alleged and stopped short of sanctioning him. The trial court denied a motion to vacate the judgment based on that issue, and the 7th Circuit affirmed that decision.

On the point where Shere argues about the District judge’s portrayal of him in a less than favorable light, the 7th Circuit wrote that an appeal isn’t the proper remedy for this even if the judge had found misconduct, which she didn’t.

“What Shere does not mention is that the district court was, in many places, equally critical of Shell’s approach to this case, and that it had some complimentary things to say about Shere,” the court wrote. “We sit to review judgments, not particular language in district court opinions, and Shere will have to be satisfied with our decision on the merits, which is largely favorable to him.”
 

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