Oil companies argue that amended suit is same old thing

Steve Korris May 10, 2007, 3:00am

Two oil companies that freed themselves from a proposed class action over pollution in the village of Hartford insist that a new version of the suit offers no grounds to bring them back into the case.

Apex Oil and Sinclair Oil moved April 26 to dismiss an amended complaint that Missouri attorneys filed in March.

The attorneys sued Apex, Sinclair and others in 2003, blaming them for vapors that rise from an underground pool of petroleum with every rainfall.

Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack dismissed Apex and Sinclair last May, ruling that the statute of limitations had run out.

Stack gave the Missouri attorneys 30 days to amend the complaint, but the task took 10 months.

To Apex and Sinclair, the new complaint looks a lot like the old one.

Apex attorney James O'Brien of St. Louis wrote, "While the second amended complaint featured a new lead plaintiff - Vickie Hopkins had supplanted Katherine Sparks - little else had changed."

"Plaintiffs have merely reordered and enunciated allegations that were already contained in the first amended complaint," O'Brien wrote.

"The allegations of defendants' duties in the two complaints are identical right down to the grammatical errors."

He wrote that the statute of limitations applied because suspicious odors started in 1966 and lawsuits started in 1978.

Sinclair attorney Crystal Lovett-Tibbs of St. Louis wrote that the only change in the complaint was an allegation of negligent remediation.

"Plaintiffs fail to even attempt to allege that the remediation has been performed in violation of any applicable standard," Lovett-Tibbs wrote.

Even if they did, she wrote, the statute of limitations still applied.

She wrote that plaintiffs failed to name the correct Sinclair defendant.

"Plaintiffs have had more than sufficient notice and time to get this correct and have repeatedly failed," she wrote.

"There comes a time when plaintiffs must state valid claims against a defendant based on the actual facts of their case…"

Hartford litigation continues to run on three tracks.

The Missouri attorneys seek to represent all residents and property owners in the village in a class action.

In a suit from 2004, Mark Goldenberg of Edwardsville represents more than 100 individuals who do not seek a class action.

A suit from last year incorporated a settlement that Goldenberg reached with Equilon Enterprises and Premcor Refining.

The settlement collapsed in February.

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