Federal Court Certifies Class on Liability Claims Despite Differences Among Class Members on Exposure, Damages
In a limited but significant victory for class action plaintiffs, a federal court in Indiana granted class certification to 1,700 Indiana residents with respect to only the liability portion of their claims against the owners of a wood recycling facility based on alleged exposure to smoke, dust and “extreme noxious odors.” Greene v. Will, 3:09-cv-00510 (N.D. Ind. Jan. 29, 2013), available at www.bdlaw.com/assets/attachments/Greene.pdf. The district court held that the issues of which defendants caused the alleged harm, what chemicals were emitted, and when the chemicals were emitted, could and should be determined on a class-wide basis. Greene. slip. op at 7-9.
Plaintiffs alleged past and continuing harm to their health and the environment due to the plant’s air emissions from waste processing and sought class certification only on the liability aspect of their claims. Id. at 2. Defendants Soil Solutions Co. and VIM Recycling Inc. argued that the plaintiffs should not be treated as a class because their claims were “intensely individual” based on differences among putative class members relating to their alleged exposures, causation for any injuries, and the extent of any alleged damages. Id. at 7.
The district court concluded that although causation and damages issues may differ by individual or by household, the question of liability could still be settled on a class-wide basis. Id. at 6-8. The court concluded that the defendants’ “overly narrow focus on questions pertaining to the proof of individual causation and damages” did not defeat class certification for other common threshold issues held across the class. Id. at 9.