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Reversal: Neighbors may intervene in environmental cleanup case

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Businesses neighboring an Indianapolis industrial property that was forced to clean up hazardous chemicals were improperly shut out of litigation involving the city and state, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

In Moran Electric Service, Inc., and Threaded Rod Company, Inc. v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, City of Indianapolis, Ertel Manufacturing Corp., 49A02-1305-MI-432, the panel ruled Moran and Threaded Rod have an immediate and direct interest in the proceedings and that Marion Superior Judge Michael Keele erred in determining the court didn’t have subject matter jurisdiction. The panel remanded the matter for further proceedings.

The lawsuit involves environmental cleanup ordered for the Ertel property and litigation dating to 2008, when Indianapolis sued Ertel to recoup the environmental cleanup costs. The former industrial property in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood was contaminated with lead, petroleum, asbestos, PCBs and other toxins.

As the cleanup proceeded along administrative and court tracks, Ertel, the city and state settled, and the court approved. Insurance ultimately provided $1 million. Of that, $140,000 reimbursed Indiana Department of Environmental Management for its cleanup fees, and $860,000 was placed in escrow for contingencies. IDEM in 2012 released $846,000 to the city for future cleanup costs.

Moran and Threaded Rod claimed IDEM’s settlement with Ertel required the agency to address contaminants that flowed from the Ertel site onto their properties, but the court denied their motions to intervene.

“The heart of the issue is whether the trial court properly ordered the remaining $846,000 in funds distributed to the City, which is dependent upon whether IDEM properly issued a (No Further Action) Letter regarding the Ertel property,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the panel.

“The current parties of the two civil actions are IDEM, the City, Ertel, and various insurance companies. Ertel, having been released from liability, has no incentive to represent Appellants’ interests. IDEM’s and the City’s interests in issuing the NFA Letter and distributing the remaining escrowed funds to the City, also appear to conflict with Appellants’ interests in using the remaining escrowed funds to remediate Appellants’ properties,” Barnes wrote.

“Consequently, we conclude that the representation of Appellants' interests by the existing parties is inadequate. In sum, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion by denying Appellants’ motions to intervene.”


 

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