Class Certification Granted To Property Owners In Illinois Oil Refinery Spill

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — (Mealey’s) An Illinois federal judge granted class certification Sept. 3

to owners of 387 properties in the Village of Roxana, Ill., who claim diminution of value as a result of alleged contamination of the land, air and water with benzene and other cancer-causing hydrocarbons by ConocoPhillips Co.'s Wood River Oil Refinery (Jeana Parko, et al. v. Shell Oil Company, et al., No. 3:12-cv-00336, S.D. Ill.). 

(Opinion available.  Document #83-130925-005Z.  Property list available.  Document #83-130925-006X.) 

“The questions of whether hazardous petroleum byproduct pervades village property and of whether Defendants are complicit in any resultant damage are best suited to class-wide resolution,” U.S. Judge G. Patrick Murphy of the Southern District of Illinois said, citing Mejdrech v. Met-Coil Systems Corp. (319 F.3d 910, 911 [7th Cir. 2003]).  “Answering these questions across multiple fact-finders would do nothing to increase the ‘accuracy of the resolution’ and would, indeed, be redundant and an unnecessary strain on the dockets of multiple judges.  Neither do the apparently related state actions make the class device any less satisfactory here.  Plaintiffs in those cases are represented by able counsel, and, significantly, may opt-out of this class.” 

Typicality, Adequacy 

“All purported class members have an identical claim,” Judge Murphy said, addressing the typicality and adequacy-of-representation requirements of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure -23(a)(3) and (a)(4).  “Defendants have not defeated named Plaintiffs’ claims at this point, nor is there any indication that those Plaintiffs’ nascent understanding of the alleged contamination is atypical. 

“Either Defendants’ acts caused petrochemical contamination in Roxana resulting in negligence, trespass, public nuisance, private nuisance, unjust enrichment, and the need for medical monitoring; or they didn’t.  If they did, each Roxana property owner may have different damages to prove.  Nothing indicates that named Plaintiffs’ claims diverge from the claims of unnamed Roxana property owners.” 

Judge Murphy appointed Jeana Parko, Delbert R. Cobine, Janice A. Cobine and Rodger Jennings as class representatives and the law firms of Simmons, Browder, Gianaris, Angelides & Barnerd and Hanly, Conroy, Bierstein, Sheridan Fisher & Hayes as class counsel. 

ConocoPhillips is under a consent order with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to address underground pollution plumes moving off the refinery site, operated by Shell Oil Co. from approximately 1918 to 2000, and under homes in Roxana.  

Claims 

Lead plaintiff Jeana Parko bought a home on East Fifth Street in Roxana in 1999.  The home has an open drain in the basement and cinder block basement walls, which allow infiltration of fumes into her home, the plaintiffs say. 

In addition to medical monitoring, the suit asserts claims for trespass, public and private nuisance and unjust enrichment. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Derek Y. Brandt, G. Michael Stewart and Jo Anna Pollock of Simmons, Browder, Gianaris, Angelides & Barnerd in Alton, Ill.; Melissa K. Sims of Spring Valley, Ill.; Paul J. Hanly Jr., Jayne Conroy and Andrea Bierstein of Hanly, Conroy, Bierstein, Sheridan, Fisher & Hayes in New York; and James E. Schrempf of Roxana. 

ConocoPhillips is represented by Larry E. Hepler of HeplerBroom in Edwardsville, Ill.  Shell is represented by Richard B. Korn and Bart C. Sullivan of Fox Galvin in St. Louis. 

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