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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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  2. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  3. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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