Judge Certifies Class Action Against Shell Oil
EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (CN) - A federal judge certified a class action accusing Shell Oil Co. of contaminating private property near its refinery in Roxana, Ill.
Lead plaintiff Jeana Parko sued Shell Oil Company, Equilon Enterprises dba Shell Oil Products US, ConocoPhillips Company, WRB Refining LP, ConocoPhillips WRB Partner and Cenovus GPCO in Madison County Court in April 2012. The lawsuit was later removed to federal court.
Parko claims she and her neighbors suffered lower property values due to benzene and other carcinogenic chemical releases that have contaminated the groundwater, land and air of Roxana. The emissions are allegedly caused by broken pipelines and the refinery itself. More than 200,000 pounds of pure benzene were released from a pipeline directly into the ground during the time Shell owned the refinery, according to a release from Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd, the firm representing the class.
"If you own property in Roxana, this is obviously a big issue," Simmons shareholder Derek Brandt told Courthouse News. "Everybody is concerned if they will be able to sell their house in the future."
U.S District Judge G. Patrick Murphy granted the class certification on Sept. 3.
Shell had argued that the owners of the estimated 387 parcels of land at issue should be forced to litigate individually.
"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," Murphy wrote. "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."
Brandt told Courthouse News that class certification made sense for both sides in this case.
"It gives authority to the defendant, so that no one later can come back and ask 'what about me?' All of the plaintiffs would be included in whoever is in the class," Brandt said. "It also gives the plaintiffs an advantage because they can proceed in mass."
Despite Murphy's decision to certify the class, the issue is far from resolved. Brandt said much of the effort up to this point has been defending his clients' interests in securing class status. Now the focus switches to preparing for trial.
"At this point, we're going through all of the documents and evidence," Brandt said. "We are trying to prove that they did it and they knew they did it."
Murphy's decision is the latest setback for Shell in the Parko litigation. Last year, Shell unsuccessfully tried to have the case stayed or dismissed due to two other similar cases still pending in Madison County.
Shell officials were unavailable for comment.
The Simmons firm also represents the Village of Roxana, 20 miles north of St. Louis, in a similar lawsuit against Shell. Courthouse News first reported on that litigation in March 2012.