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Justices: summary judgment inappropriate on some claims in contaminated waste suit

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The Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed in part and reversed in part the grant of summary judgment to various defendants involved in a landowner’s lawsuit seeking damages after a steel fabrication company deposited solid waste onto his property.

In Hugh David Reed v. Edward Reid; Reid Machinery, Inc.; North Vernon Drop Forge, Inc.; Jennings Manufacturing Co., Inc.; Reid Metals, Inc.; Glen White; Douglas Dibble; et al., 40S01-1107-PL-436, Hugh David Reed sought clean fill for his property on which he operates an auction barn and leases a portion to a nursing facility. In 2004, Reed made arrangements to have North Vernon Drop Forge deliver fill to his parking lot. While it was being dumped, Reed saw unexpected materials in the fill and suspended the dumping of Forge fill on his land.

After this incident, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management cited Forge for violations of environmental laws at its site. A test showed contamination on Reed’s property. IDEM later sent a notice of violation letter to Reed for violations of environmental laws stemming from the Forge fill. Reed hired a company to remove the contaminated soil and then filed a 14-count complaint against Forge, its employees Roger Crane, Douglas Dibble and Gen White, Forge owner Edward Reid, along with three other companies Reid owns.

The defendants and Reed moved for summary judgment on his complaints, including environmental legal action, illegal dumping, and trespass. The trial court denied Reed’s motions and granted the defendants’ motions as to all claims, leaving for trial only Reed’s negligence claims and the claims of potential liability against Reid individually and Reid Machinery.

In the 35-page decision authored by Justice Robert Rucker, among other things, the justices affirmed the denial of summary judgment for Reed on his environmental legal action claim and reversed the grant of summary judgment for the defendants on the same claim. They also reversed summary judgment for the defendants on Reed’s claim for illegal dumping. The Rule 56 materials presented to the trial court demonstrated at the very least a dispute question of material fact on whether Reed consented to the dumping of solid waste on his property, Rucker wrote.

They found questions for the jury to decide regarding the nuisance count, so they reversed summary judgment for the defendants as well as on the trespass claims.

The high court affirmed summary judgment for the defendants on Reed’s unjust enrichment claim, as well as ruled it is up to a fact-finder to determine whether the separate corporate identities of Reid’s companies may be disregarded so that liability may be imposed on Reid personally, Jennings Manufacturing, and/or Reid Machinery.

 

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