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7th Circuit reinstates suit to recoup environmental cleanup costs

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Finding the District Court erred in dismissing several claims made by the trustees of a fund to oversee cleanup of a contaminated site, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

Norman W. Bernstein and other trustees of the Third Site Trust Fund sued the former owners of now-closed Enviro-Chem, their corporate entities and their insurers to recoup cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, the Indiana Environmental Legal Action Statute, and more. None of the parties being sued have paid into the trust set up to finance and oversee cleanup, despite an alleged obligation to do so.

In Norman W. Bernstein, et al. v. Patricia A. Bankert, et al. and Auto Owners Mutual Insurance Co., 11-1501, 11-1523,  Chief Judge Richard Young in the Southern District of Indiana dismissed all claims at the summary judgment stage: Count I, a CERCLA cost-recovery action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 9607(a); Count II, seeking a declaratory judgment under CERCLA of the defendants’ joint and several liability; Count III, a cost-recovery action under the ELA, codified at I.C. 13-30-9-2; Count IV, negligence; Count V, nuisance; and Count VII, seeking a declaratory judgment of coverage against the insurers. The complaint did not include a Count VI. In addition, Auto Owners filed a conditional cross-appeal to try to preserve a favorable outcome in the event of a reversal of the court’s final judgment.

In the 66-page opinion authored by U.S. District Judge Jon E. DeGuilio, of the Northern District of Indiana, sitting by designation, the 7th Circuit reversed the dismissal of counts I, II, III and VII.

“In Count I, the Trustees have made a timely CERCLA claim, under 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a)(4)(B), to recover costs incurred pursuant to the 2002 AOC. The Trustees’ Count II “companion claim” for a declaratory judgment of CERCLA liability is therefore also reinstated. We find that the Indiana ELA claim contained in Count III is timely, and that the declaratory judgment claim contained in Count VII is not moot,” DeGuilio wrote.

“The district court committed no abuse of discretion in its handling of the summary judgment briefing process. Finally, we affirm the district court’s denial of Auto Owners’ motion for summary judgment on preclusion grounds. The trustees’ suit is reinstated and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

 

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  1. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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