Class-action certification upheld in Clark County residents’ suit against landfill

A group of Clark County neighbors have prevailed in an interlocutory appeal in their proposed class-action lawsuit that claims a Jeffersonville landfill emits noxious odors and negatively impacts the surrounding residential area.

In August 2016, homeowners Ricky Gonzalez, Yvonne Gonzales, Robert Scoles, and Tamara Scoles filed a putative class-action complaint against Clark-Floyd Landfill, LLC based on noxious odors emanating from a nearby landfill operated by CFL.

The homeowners filed a putative class-action complaint against CFL alleging, among other things, that their “neighborhoods, residences and yards have been and continue to be physically invaded by noxious odors, pollutants and air contaminants” and that the “horrific odors” have interfered with their “use and enjoyment of their properties, resulting in damages … .”

When the homeowners moved to certify their complaint as a class action in December 2018 and designated supporting evidence, the Clark Circuit Court granted the homeowners’ motion and ultimately certified the class using the homeowners’ proposed class definition.

Among other things, the trial court concluded that class litigation of the homeowners’ claims, “will be more streamlined and efficient … than litigating these odor based claims on individual bases.” Additionally, after finding that the homeowners had successfully satisfied the four requirements of Trial Rule 23(A), the court further found that they had satisfied Trial Rule 23(B)(3).

Thus, when the trial court certified the order for interlocutory appeal, CFL argued against the class action certification by questioning whether the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard. It specifically asserted in one sentence of paragraph 10 of the trial court’s class-certification order, a legal preamble, the trial court erroneously stated that it “may not engage in [an] analysis of the merits of the allegations in order to determine whether a class action may be maintained.”

“CFL does not suggest that paragraph 10 as a whole is an incorrect assessment of the law. Indeed, the trial court’s commentary in paragraph 10 of its certification order is wholly consistent with Indiana law,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the appellate court in rejecting CFL’s first argument.   

“In any event, CFL’s ultimate argument on this issue is that one sentence in the court’s class-certification order shows that the court failed to properly consider any of the designated evidence in certifying the class. But the court’s order plainly shows otherwise: the court consistently and specifically cited or referred to the designated evidence throughout the order. Thus, even if the one sentence CFL complains about were an erroneous legal statement, the order as a whole makes clear that the court considered the designated evidence when it entered its judgment,” the appellate court wrote.

It similarly rejected CFL’s assertion that the trial court erred in certifying the class “because no evidence supports the Homeowners’ definition of the class as all residents living within a three-mile radius of the landfill.” The appellate court declined to invent new rules to heighten the evidentiary burden under Trial Rule 23’s implicit definiteness requirement.

Additionally, it found the trial court did not err in concluding that the homeowners met the predominance requirement of Trial Rule 23(B)(3) or in rejecting CFL’s assertion that the homeowners failed to show commonality. It also found that the trial court was correct in refusing to strike numerous exhibits designated by the homeowners in support of their motion for class certification.

The appellate court therefore affirmed the trial court’s certification of the class in Clark-Floyd Landfill, LLC v. Ricky Gonzalez, Yvonne Gonzalez, Robert Scoles, and Tamara Scoles, on Behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated, 19A-CT-2680. 

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