Several interesting decisions have recently been made by federal and state courts.
FEDERAL APPELLATE COURTS
The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – ARCO Shifts from State to Federal and No Vigor for VIM
On June 18, 2020, the court decided the case of Baker, et al. v. ARCO, holding that the revised federal removal statutes authorize the removal to federal court of a state-filed complaint against several defendants by the former residents of an Indiana housing complex who contended that the defendants were responsible for the industrial pollution attributed to the operations of a now-closed industrial plant. The housing complex was constructed at the site of the former U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery. During the Second World War, the plant produced products for the use of the government war effort, thus triggering the applicability of the federal removal statutes.
On June 25, 2020, the court decided the case of Greene, et al. v. Westfield Insurance Company. As the court notes, this is a matter that “began as a case about environmental pollution and evolved into a joint garnishment action.” An Indiana wood recycling facility, VIM Recycling, was the subject of many complaints by nearby residents that its operations and waste disposal activities exposed then to dust and odors in violation of federal law and triggered state tort law claims. VIM was sued in state court, but neglected to notify its insurer, as required by its insurance policy with Westfield Insurance. One thing led to another, and a default judgment in the amount of $ 50 million was entered against VIM. Since VIM at that point had no assets, the plaintiffs and later VIM sought recovery from Westfield. When this dispute landed in federal court, the court, after reviewing the policy, concluded that there was a provision excluding coverage when the insured knew it had these liabilities when it purchased the insurance. As a result, the lower court dismissed the lawsuit, and this decision has been affirmed by the Seventh Circuit.