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COA sends environmental contamination case to Vanderburgh County

March 8, 2018

An environmental contamination complaint originally filed in Warrick County must be transferred to Vanderburgh County after the Indiana Court of Appeals found no statutory basis to deny a motion to transfer venue.

In August 2016, Columbia Street Partners, Inc. and Columbia Partners Remediation Trust filed a damages complaint against CenterPoint Energy, Inc. and Honeywell International, Inc. in Warrick County, alleging environmental contamination on property located in Evansville. Honeywell removed the case to the Indiana Southern District Court, but the district court remanded the case back to Warrick County after finding it did not have diversity jurisdiction.

CenterPoint then moved to transfer the case to Vanderburgh County as a preferred venue under Indiana Trial Rule 75(A), but the Warrick Circuit Court denied the motion, finding CenterPoint “waived its right to seek a new venue by not filing a Rule 75 Motion to Transfer Venue to Vanderburgh (County) before the removal” to federal court. The energy company then filed an interlocutory appeal in Arkla Industries, Inc., et al. v. Columbia Street Partners, Inc. and Columbia Street Partners Remediation, Trust, 87A01-1709-CC-2140, and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of its motion.

Judge Margret Robb first noted in a Thursday opinion that the parties do not dispute that Warrick County is not a preferred venue, while Vanderburgh is. In a footnote, Robb said Columbia sent the defense a letter stating it filed its case in Warrick County because “(t)he odds of getting a good judge in Vanderburgh County were not great… .”

Robb then wrote that transfer from a non-preferred to preferred venue is mandatory if the provisions in Trial Rules 12 and 75 are met, even if the movant was engaged in misconduct, as Columbia alleged here. Thus, Columbia’s argument that CenterPoint was complicit in the “baseless” removal to federal court and should, thus, be sanctioned is irrelevant, she said.  

Further, CenterPoint had not yet filed an answer when the case was removed to the district court, so the time allowed under Trial Rule 12 to assert improper venue or file a motion asserting the defense of incorrect venue had not run, the court found, and that time was tolled while in federal court. Thus, CenterPoint was not barred from filing a motion to transfer venue, so the denial of its motion was reversed. The appellate court remanded the case for transfer to Vanderburgh County.

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