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Ill. steel mill removes class action to federal court

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Feb 17, 2015

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EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - A Granite City, Ill., steel mill has removed to federal court a putative class action lawsuit alleging five plaintiffs were driven from their home due to emissions from the mill.

Plaintiffs filed the complaint on Nov. 10 in Madison County Circuit Court against defendants SunCoke Energy, Gateway Energy and Coke Company and U.S. Steel Corporation. They claim they are unable to fully enjoy the use of their properties because of suspended particulates generated by U.S. Steel.

SunCoke produces raw material, called coke, which U.S. Steel then uses to manufacture steel. During the steel mill’s operation, odorous gases and total suspended particulates are produced, which are then released into the atmosphere, the suit states.

Due to the environmental threats presented by the generation of various materials, the United States Environmental Protection Agency sued SunCoke. The company settled the claim and agreed to pay a penalty of $1.995 million, plus to contribute $255,000 to the St. Louis Lead Prevention Coalition, the complaint states.

Due to environmental concerns, the plaintiffs claim they experienced annoyance and discomfort, including an inability to open their windows and to breathe clean and fresh air.

They blame the defendants for negligently failing to capture emissions of odors so they are not released into the atmosphere, failing to maintain equipment to prevent the release of odors and failing to store and transport coke properly, the suit states. They also allege temporary nuisance and trespass against the defendants.

SunCoke Energy and Gateway Energy filed a notice of removal on Dec. 17 to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. They argue that the Class Action Fairness Act authorizes federal jurisdiction over proposed class actions when a member of the proposed class is a citizen of another state, when the proposed class is composed of more than 100 claimants and when the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.

The plaintiffs in this case allege two classes. The first proposed class consists of anyone who owned or resided on real property in Madison County contaminated with “total suspended particles” and “offensive odors discharged or emitted from the Steel Mill” from Nov. 11, 2009, until present. The second proposed class consists of anyone who is a leaseholder and resides on real property within Madison County that has been contaminated with “total suspended particles” or “offensive odors” from the Steel Mill since Nov. 11, 2009.

However, diversity exists in the case because United States Steel is a citizen of Delaware and Pennsylvania.

The defendants also argue that the number of class members range from hundreds to a few thousand claimants, meaning the amount in controversy would exceed the $5 million threshold established by the Class Action Fairness Act even if each member was awarded the minimum amount requested by plaintiffs, $50,000.

Furthermore, the defendants assert removal is proper when a case involves laws of the United States. Specifically, this case includes allegations that SunCoke violated the Clean Air Act and a Consent Agree entered by a federal court.

The plaintiffs seek compensatory and/or restorative damages of more than $150,000, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.

Ted Gianaris of Simmons, Hanly and Conroy in Alton, Ill., represents the plaintiffs.

John E. Galvin, Suzanne P. Galvin and Katherine M. Fowler of Fox Galvin, LLC, in St. Louis represent SunCoke Energy and Gateway Energy & Coke Company.

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)