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. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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