ILNews

Court overturns breach-of-contract ruling

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a Marion Superior Court decision granting partial summary judgment in favor of the defendant on an issue of breach of contract, ruling a state agency couldn't approve a cleanup that didn't comply to federal standards.

In Indiana Department of Environmental Management v. Raybestos Products Co., No. 49A02-0609-CV-782, IDEM appealed the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment to Raybestos on the issue of a breeched agreed order and a judgment of more than $16 million to Raybestos after a bench trial.

Raybestos - which makes car brakes and clutches - is located next to Shelly Ditch, an open earthen drain pool that empties into Sugar Creek. IDEM tested the water in Shelly Ditch in 1995 and found polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the water downstream from the plant. IDEM sent Raybestos a notice of potential liability, and the two parties entered into an "agreed order" in which Raybestos would prepare a risk assessment subject to the approval of IDEM. IDEM approved a plan submitted by Raybestos that would clean the water to contain no more than 238 parts per million of PCB in certain "hot spots."

Following personnel changes, IDEM decided to disapprove the cleanup proposal, fearing it would set a bad precedent, and withdrew its approval of the risk assessment.

An administrative law judge reviewed IDEM's actions and determined Raybestos waived its right to seek review based upon the terms of the agreed order. Raybestos sought judicial review of the administrative law judge's ruling. The Marion Circuit judge determined Raybestos did not waive its right and IDEM had no authority to withdraw its approval; the judge order IDEM to re-approve the risk assessment and cleanup. Instead of appealing, IDEM contacted the Environmental Protection Agency to get involved. The EPA issued a unilateral administrative order requiring Raybestos to clean up the PCB levels to no greater than 10 parts per million, as is required by federal regulation.

Raybestos filed a complaint in Marion Superior Court of breach of contract against IDEM and sought damages for the more costly EPA-ordered cleanup. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to Raybestos on the breach issue and entered judgment of more than $16 million in damages and attorney fees.

The Court of Appeals determined the 238 parts per million cleanup proposed by Raybestos and based on the approved risk assessment by IDEM did not meet applicable federal standards. In the agreement order between the two parties, it stated in cases of conflict in applicable laws, rules, or ordinances that the most stringent standard would apply - the 10 parts per million of PCB in the water. An agreement that would permit cleanup levels more than 20 times that of the applicable federal regulations would be contrary to public policy and Raybestos can't rely on that agreement to recover for any breach by IDEM, wrote Judge Paul Mathias.
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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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