Apex Oil's insurer wants out of Madison County

Steve Korris Mar. 28, 2007, 12:34pm

In a dispute over who should pay for pollution at a refinery in Hartford, National Union Fire Insurance has appealed a decision of Madison County Associate Judge Ellar Duff in favor of former refinery owner Apex Oil.

Duff in January rejected a motion of National Union to send Apex Oil's suit against eight insurers to circuit court in St. Louis.

National Union filed notice Feb. 28 that it would appeal to the Fifth District in Mount Vernon.

Apex Oil's suit seeks an order requiring past insurers to defend and indemnify it against claims of Hartford residents and government regulators.

Apex Oil currently defends itself in two civil suits that Hartford residents filed against oil companies in 2003 and 2004.

It also faces liability in two suits that state and federal regulators filed.

In anticipation of judgments in the suits, Apex Oil sued the insurers in 2005.

Apex Oil filed the suit on the miscellaneous remedies docket. Cases on the "MR" docket go to unelected associate judges.

On Jan. 23 Duff denied a motion of National Union to send the suit to St. Louis, where Apex Oil has headquarters.

She wrote, "The events giving rise to this litigation occurred in Madison County and there is a local interest in local resolution of the controversy…"

She wrote, "Four underlying lawsuits against Apex which are the subject of this declaratory judgment action are pending in Madison County, Illinois."

National Union had failed once before in its effort to escape Madison County jurisdiction.

After Apex Oil sued National Union in Madison County, National Union sued Apex Oil in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

The federal court declined jurisdiction.

Last June, National Union attorney Dennis Dolan of Chicago asked Duff to declare Madison County an inconvenient forum.

Dolan wrote that National Union issued policies to Apex Oil in St. Louis through brokers in St. Louis.

Other insurers joined the motion.

At a hearing Jan. 19, Apex Oil attorney William Knapp said claims against Apex Oil involved hundreds of properties and thousands of individuals.

He said, "It may well be the largest piece of Madison County based and Madison County specific litigation ever."

He said, "I have never filed or defended or even heard of a forum non conveniens motion where the events which give rise to the litigation occurred in the county where the suit was filed."

Four days later Duff denied the motion. She wrote that no one submitted an affidavit stating that Madison County was inconvenient.

The appeal followed.

Duff pressed on anyway. She set a March 23 hearing on a motion of defendant Maryland Casualty for summary judgment.

Maryland Casualty, as successor to American General Fire and Casualty, argued that the wrongful acts alleged against Apex Oil did not fall within the period of the policy it carried in 1979 and 1980.

The hearing did not come to pass. On March 22, Apex Oil dismissed Maryland Casualty.

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