Apex Oil says Hartford plume claims are barred

By Steve Korris | Sep 25, 2009


Apex Oil owners claim they haven't found anyone in the village of Hartford who can maintain a class action suit over pollution from refinery operations.

On Aug. 28 Apex asked Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack to dismiss a class action holding it liable for property damage and health hazards in Hartford.

"Named class representatives cannot represent a class with no members," he wrote.

"Here, all proposed class members' claims are barred," he wrote.

An underground plume of petroleum from a century of refining releases foul vapors into Hartford homes with every rainfall.

Litigation over the plume has continued since 1978, involving many defendants.

In Apex's motion to dismiss, James O'Brien of St. Louis argued that statutes of limitations have run out on many residents and state law bars claims of others.

Other residents released Apex from all claims long ago, he wrote.

American Oil opened a refinery in Hartford in 1907, Shell Oil opened one in 1911, and Clark Oil opened one in 1941, he wrote.

Apex later bought the Clark refinery and in 1988 sold it to Premcor Refining.

"The issue of alleged gasoline contamination beneath Hartford has been a matter of public debate for decades," O'Brien wrote.

"Plaintiffs who resided on property that was located atop the Hartford plume in 1978 knew or should have known about the alleged environmental problems of which they now complain," he wrote.

"Plaintiffs in the instant case who were parties to previous litigation concerning the Hartford plume and the conduct of the refineries in and around Hartford should be barred from bringing suit by the appropriate Illinois statute of limitations," he wrote.

He wrote that in 1990, state health officials estimated that seepage and pipeline breaks had left four million gallons of hydrocarbons beneath Hartford.

At a meeting in 1991, lawyer Dave Dugan "encouraged people to sign up and not sit back because of the statute of limitations," he wrote.

Four class representatives reside on property the plume hasn't contacted, he wrote.

Five who reside over the plume resided there on or before 1978, he wrote.

He wrote that Stack shouldn't hear claims of trespass and nuisance because both require actual invasion.

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