Illinois Court Rules that Class Certification in Toxic Dumping Cases is Not an “All or Nothing” Decision – Leib v. Rex Energy Operating Corp.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that every person is different. Our daily routines; our likes and dislikes; our physical, spiritual, family and money situations; each of these differences make individuals individual. In the toxic dumping class action context, the Southern District of Illinois has made clear that while personal differences mean that some questions are not suitable for class action proceedings, it should not prevent the court from certifying a class on other common questions central to the action.

In Leib v. Rex Energy Operating Corp., Plaintiffs – residents of Bridgeport, Illinois – filed suit alleging that their properties were contaminated with unsafe levels of hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a poisonous gas, released into the air from the more than 100 nearby oil wells owned by defendant PennTex Resources Illinois, Inc. (“PennTex”) and managed by defendant Rex Energy Operating Corporation (“Rex Energy”). Plaintiffs sought damages for injury to property, injunctive relief restraining Defendants from allowing further contamination and forcing them to abate the existing contamination, the establishment of a Court-administered fund for medical monitoring of class members, punitive damages, costs and fees.

Plaintiffs also filed a motion for class certification, seeking to certify a class of all persons and entities owning property or residing in the area surrounding the wells and including most of the towns of Bridgeport and Petrolia. The court determined that Plaintiffs satisfied the requirements for class certification on the question of whether and to what extent Defendants contaminated the Class Area with H2S, but not as to the question of individual property damage amounts.

The court found that the contamination question involves issues common to the entire class:

Plaintiffs’ claims arise out of the same core of operative facts, that is, the allegation that [Defendants] allowed dangerous levels of H2S to contaminate the air in the Class Area. Such alleged behavior constitutes standardized conduct toward all prospective class members. Resolution of this question — whether and, if so, to what extent [Defendants] caused contamination in the Class Area — will certainly advance the litigation.

The court further found that Plaintiffs’ claims were sufficiently common to those of the proposed class, noting “[P]laintiffs need not allege the same exact injury or be free of factual distinctions so long as their claims are based on the same legal theory.”

Citing Mejdrech v. Met-Coil Systems Corporation, 319 F.3d 910 (7th Cir. 2003), the court held class certification on the contamination question was not precluded by the need for individual damages determinations for each and every class member. “The class being so limited, [contamination] issues predominate over individualized questions regarding causation and damages, which can be decided in later individualized proceedings.”
Lawsuits claiming property damage resulting from the dumping of polluted materials are often filed as class actions. In a class action, one or more persons act on behalf of a large group of people to sue a person, corporation or legal entity. By combining a large group of similar claims into one lawsuit, a class action can be an efficient way of bringing a complex claim while lowering the costs of litigation for individual class members.

The Class Action attorneys at Lubin Austermuehle represent plaintiffs in dumping and contamination class action litigation at state and federal levels. To speak with a dumping and contamination lawyer at our firm, contact our law office in Oakbrook Terrace or Chicago, Illinois by calling 630-333-0333 or (630) 333-0333. You may also contact us by e-mail.

Related blog posts:

Northern District of Illinois Federal Court Grants Conditional Class Certification for Lawsuit for Unpaid Overtime

Northern District of Illinois Federal Court Grants Motion to Send Notice to Expanded Class in Unpaid Overtime Class-Action Litigation


Contact Information