Issues of material fact allow Environmental Legal Actions claim to proceed

September 19, 2014

The Indiana Court of Appeals is allowing a claim under Indiana’s Environmental Legal Actions statute to move forward, ruling there are many questions for the lower court to examine about the former landlord’s role in the contamination of the soil.

After discovering petroleum contamination on part of its land, JDN Properties LLC, filed a complaint against the former landowner, VanMeter Enterprises Inc. JDN made a claim under the Environmental Legal Actions statute, arguing VanMeter either caused or contributed to the pollution.

The Kosciusko Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of VanMeter, but the Court of Appeals reversed. In JDN Properties, LLC v. Vanmeter Enterprises, Inc., 43A05-1312-PL-586, the COA stopped short of granting summary judgment in favor of JDN and instead remanded for further proceedings.

VanMeter argued on appeal there is no evidence it was involved with the petroleum leak that contaminated a portion of the property.

However, the appellate court found there are genuine issues of material fact still be to resolved regarding VanMeter’s role making a grant of summary judgment inappropriate.

The COA looked at the evidence and concluded it is reasonable to assume that VanMeter was aware of the fuel leak. It also rejected VanMeter’s assertion that JDN did not submit conclusive proof that the contamination happened while VanMeter owned the property.

The Court noted JDN did not have to prove with certainty when the leak occurred. It only had to provide evidence that created a genuine issue of material fact.   

“The ELA clearly was intended to broaden the avenues for purchasers of property to recoup hazardous waste remediation costs and to shift the costs of such remediation onto those who were in the better position to prevent or alleviate the pollution,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the court. “As between JDN and (VanMeter), (VanMeter) was in the better position to do so.”



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