(CN) – Six years of litigation has left Shell Oil Co. with a $700,000 bill to owners of a store on land that was contaminated by a leaky gas storage tank in Anderson, Ind.
Daniel and Pamela Wickens owned a shoe store where a Shell gas station once stood. While preparing to sell their store and retire, the Wickenses found the store sat on a bed of contaminated soil.
Further investigation found a nearby property, owned by another family, also was contaminated.
Indiana’s Underground Storage Tank Act requires the original owners of a leaking tank to pay for cleanup efforts. Court proceedings ultimately led to a settlement under which Shell purchased the property for $139,900 and paid $60,100 in property damages.
Shell pointed out that Mark Shere, the Wickenses’ attorney, had billed the Wickenses for counsel from his wife, Colleen, who was not licensed to practice law in Indiana. Hours billed to Colleen were deducted and the Wickenses received over half a million dollars in attorneys’ fees and corrective action costs.
The 7th Circuit ruled that Colleen Shere’s hours could be billed, citing a common Indiana practice where unlicensed attorneys may temporarily work under a licensed attorney’s supervision.
Shell had unsuccessfully claimed that Shere had “fraudulently concealed [Employers Fire Insurance Company’s] role in funding the Wickenses litigation efforts.” Circuit Judge Diane Wood said that Shere had not committed fraud, but also rebuked his withholding of the information until after the district court’s judgment.