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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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