Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Pipeline companies move for entry of ESI order in suit alleging contamination from 2015 Highland oil spill

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Jan 10, 2018

Two pipeline companies request the district court to adopt its proposed order governing discovery of electronically stored information in a class action suit alleging the companies contaminated land near Highland following a 2015 oil spill.

Plains All American Pipeline and Plains Pipeline filed a motion for entry of an ESI order on Dec. 22 through attorney Alphonse J. Pranaitis of Rynearson Suess Schnurbusch & Champion LLC in Edwardsville.

The defendants explain that the parties “have conferred on multiple occasions on the phone and via email in an attempt to reach an agreement on an order governing the discovery of electronically stored information (ESI) in this matter.”

Although the parties have reached agreement on a number of issues, there are still several areas that remain unresolved.

The parties have submitted proposed orders to Magistrate Judge Donald G. Wilkerson.

However, the defendants argue that the plaintiffs’ proposed order is over complex and “contains requirements that are unreasonably burdensome and not in accordance with the Model Standing Order of the Seventh Circuit’s Pilot Program.”

The parties disagree over six issues related to the production of ESI: whether the ESI order should mandate specific non-standard technologies for identification of responsive documents; whether ESI must be produced in duplicate formats; whether defendants must produce non-responsive documents; whether defendants must provide passwords for sensitive, proprietary encrypted native files; whether the ESI order shall contain additional mandatory deadlines; and whether defendants shall be required to produce privilege logs accompanying their discovery responses.

“As to each of the above categories, Plaintiffs would put these unnecessary burdens exclusively on Defendants, particularly given that the burden of ESI production in this matter will likely fall mostly on Defendants, rather than the Plaintiffs, who are individual residents of the area,” the motion states.

The defendants seek an order containing typical search term protocols and object to the production of word processing files in native format.

The defendants also argue that they should not be required to produce documents that are not responsive to specific, permissible discovery requests, nor should they be required to produce passwords for encrypted files when they’ve provided discoverable information in a form easily accessible by the requesting party.

Further, the defendants object to privacy logs and argue that any additional deadlines “would do nothing more than unreasonably increase the expense of this litigation on Defendants.”

Plaintiffs Kevin Nodine, Cheryl Morr and David Medlock filed the complaint against Plains All American Pipeline and Plains Pipeline on Feb. 15 through the Driscoll Firm in St. Louis. The lawsuit also names John Doe 1-10 as defendants, which include unknown corporations or partnerships.

The plaintiffs allege a pipeline fitting ruptured or burst at the Pocahontas pump Station on the MP 29 pipeline near the border of Bond and Madison Counties on July 10, 2015. The defendants own and operate the MP 29 pipeline.

The incident allegedly caused more than 4,000 gallons of crude oil to spill into the surrounding waterways in and near Highland, including the creek adjacent to Medlock’s property, over which he has exclusive possession, the suit states.

The spill also allegedly contaminated the lake, which was detected by a resident who reported the spill on an emergency hotline.

Highland is situated next to Silver Lake, a 574-acre body of water that provides the community with its drinking water. Highland also supplies water to the villages of Grantfork, Pierron and St. Jacob from the lake.

A 12-mile stretch of drainage ditches run near the Pocahontas pump station to allow rainwater to flow into Little Silver Creek and then into Silver Lake.

On the day of the oil spill, rainwater was flowing into the drainage ditches, causing the spilled oil to flow from the impaired containment dike at the station into the drainage ditches, toward the creek and ultimately to Silver Lake, the suit states.

The plaintiffs claim the oil contamination caused damages on Highland residents’ properties and the environment. The impacted area allegedly includes 380 residential parcels and 120 agricultural parcels.

The suit states that the pipeline’s leak detection system at the Pocahontas Pump Station was defective and failed to set off any alarms when the oil spilled into the containment dike, a backup storage container.

The plaintiffs also allege the defendants were aware that erosion had caused leakage between a drain pipe and a catchment berm of the containment dike but they failed to make any immediate repairs.

The suit states that while the defendants made a public apology for the oil spill, they have not compensated the community affected by the contamination.

The Pocahontas Pump Station is located in a rural agricultural area about 2.5 miles from the town of Pocahontas and six miles from the Capwood Pipeline that runs from All America’s Patoka Station to Wood River, the suit states.

The plaintiffs claim an appraisal company found that residential properties in or near an area affected by an oil spill experienced a reduction in property values in excess of 10 percent.

They seek an order requiring the defendants to restore the properties and waterways affected by the spill. They also seek compensation for damages, fees and court costs, punitive damages and individual relief.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois case number 3L17-cv-163

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Organizations in this Story

Rynearson, Suess, Schnurbusch & Champion LLC U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois