Norfolk Southern says East Palestine residents' suit barred by US law
By Clark Mindock,2023-06-05
- Law Firms
June 5 (Reuters) - Norfolk Southern Corp (NSC.N) has asked a U.S. judge to toss a proposed class action lawsuit it is facing over a February train derailment that led to a toxic chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio, arguing the claims are “threadbare” and barred by federal law.
The railroad company told a federal court in Youngstown, Ohio that the consolidated complaint filed last month on behalf of roughly 500,000 area residents, businesses and property owners relies on “vague and conclusory allegations” that it acted improperly, leading to the crash.
The company said it is required as a common carrier under U.S. law to transport hazardous materials like those that spilled and caught fire, including vinyl chloride.
It said the plaintiffs' negligence, nuisance and strict liability claims are preempted by federal laws like the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act. Those laws "expansively" regulate railroad operations and bar those sorts of claims based in state law, Norfolk said.
Jayne Conroy, an attorney representing the plaintiffs with the law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy, on Monday called the motion to dismiss “routine” and said “we have every expectation that the motion will be denied in its entirety.”
The plaintiffs have claimed the company is liable for the property damage, health concerns and business impacts caused by the Feb. 3 crash of the Norfolk-operated train.
A total of 38 cars fell off the tracks that day, including 11 carrying hazardous materials, some of which were burned off sending a black plume of smoke into the sky.
The company has repeatedly promised to help the local community, including by setting up a home value reimbursement program, a water testing program and a healthcare fund. The company said Friday that it has paid “over $16 million” directly to residents.
In March, the state of Ohio and the U.S. Justice Department also sued Norfolk Southern seeking to ensure that the railroad pays the full cost of cleanup and any long-term effects of the derailment.
The railroad has also been sued by shareholders over the derailment, and faces other lawsuits including at least three filed by Pennsylvania school districts near the crash site.
The case is In Re: East Palestine Train Derailment, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, No. 4:23-cv-00242.
For the plaintiffs: Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy; Seth Katz of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine; Elizabeth Graham of Grant & Eisenhofer; and Michael Morgan of Morgan & Morgan
For Norfolk Southern: Alan Schoenfeld, Davina Pujari, Chris Rheinheimer of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr; and Lawson Johnston and Scott Clements of Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote
Reporting by Clark Mindock
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