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Justices: City can proceed with ELA claim

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The Indiana Supreme Court held that the city of South Bend's claim under the Environmental Legal Action statute can continue because the statute of limitations hadn't run out. The high court did reverse summary judgment in favor of the city in its torts claims against a company because the statute of limitations bars the common law claims for environmental damage.

The Supreme Court issued a 32-page, unanimous decision Thursday in Cooper Industries, et al. v. City of South Bend, et al., No. 49S04-0711-CV-541. At issue was whether Cooper could be held liable for South Bend's claims of negligence, private nuisance, trespass, public nuisance, and an environmental legal action under Indiana Code Section 13-30-9-2 after discovering land it purchased that housed Studebaker manufacturing sites was contaminated. It discovered the contamination in the late 1980s. Through a series of acquisitions and mergers, Cooper Industries obtained the assets of Studebaker.

The city filed suit in March 2003. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of South Bend on the issue of successorship, the city's common law claims, and that the ELA claim was timely because the city filed it less than six years after the ELA statute became effective. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, holding the 6-year statute of limitations barred all the claims.

The high court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of South Bend's common law claims, ruling the claims accrued more than six years before they were filed.

But South Bend can proceed with its ELA claim because it can be a plaintiff under the ELA and the addition of the ELA to current code created a new action, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. Since a new action was created, no cause of action could have existed before its effective date. South Bend's claims under the ELA couldn't have been brought before the action was added on Feb. 28, 1998. Adopting the six-year statute of limitations for this case, South Bend fell within the limits by filing its action March 19, 2003.

The Supreme Court also affirmed Cooper holds the corporate liability for surviving claims as a result of Studebaker's actions. There is sufficient evidence to support the 1967 transaction between Studebaker and Worthington, to form Studebaker-Worthington, constituted a de facto merger such that Cooper may be held to answer South Bend's claims, wrote Chief Justice Shepard. The trial court was also correct to find the 1967 transaction was a mere continuation of the earlier corporate forms.

Even though Cooper argues Delaware law should control because all of the acquiring entities were Delaware corporations, the Supreme Court ruled Indiana law applies because the claim is about property damage which happened in Indiana. The law of the place of the wrong occurred governs, wrote the chief justice.

The Supreme Court remanded for further proceedings on the merits of the city's ELA claim.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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