From the Indiana Supreme Court, we have this case handed down on February 20, 2014. Mitchell vs. 10th and Bypass LLC reverses an order granting a motion to vacate partial summary judgment in an environmental remediation action. The Indiana Supreme Court tackled the apparently conflicting Indiana Trial Rules 54(B) and 56(C).
Asserting a claim for an environmental legal action (“ELA”) as set out in Ind. Code §§ 13-30-9 and alleging a violation of Indiana’s anti-dumping statute, see I.C. §§ 13-30-3, 10th and The Bypass, LLC filed a complaint on December 30, 2008 against Mitchell individually, and J.T. Mitchell, Inc.—a corporation Mitchell owned; the Sevan Corporation; and Elway, Inc. (collectively “Defendants”). The complaint alleged that Defendants were responsible for environmental contamination while operating certain dry cleaning businesses at a site owned by the LLC and located on East 10th Street in Bloomington. In particular, according to the complaint, the Defendants “caused and/or contributed to the release of a hazardous substance into the subsurface soil and groundwater of the Site, . . . [and] dumped chlorinated solvents and other solid waste onto the Site without Plaintiff’s consent.”
On June 30, 2009, Mitchell in his individual capacity filed a motion for partial summary judgment on grounds that he was not personally liable for LLC’s damages and that neither the responsible corporate officer doctrine nor the doctrine of piercing the corporate veil was applicable in imposing on him any personal liability. In support of his motion Mitchell designated several exhibits including his affidavit which alleged in pertinent part:
“I never individually operated a dry cleaning business at Plaintiff’s real estate. . . . My involvement in the dry cleaning business at Plaintiff’s real estate was at all times as an officer or employee of J.T. Mitchell, Inc. . . . I never dumped, nor was I at any time involved in any capacity in the dumping of chemical waste on Plaintiff’s real estate. . . . I never caused or contributed to the release of a hazardous substance into the surface or subsurface soil or ground water at Plaintiff’s real estate.”
LLC filed its own motion for partial summary judgment seeking to impose individual liability on Mitchell. In support of the motion LLC designated several exhibits none of which disputed the material substance of Mitchell’s affidavit. After conducting a hearing the trial court entered an order on January 11, 2010 granting Mitchell’s motion for partial summary judgment and denying LLC’s motion. The order declared that there is no evidence that Mitchell caused a spill of hazardous waste or other violation of the ELA or Indiana dumping statutes . . .
But a year later LLC obtained a recorded statement from a former Mitchell employee who had previously worked at the dry cleaning facility on East 10th Street. According to her, sometime around 1988 or 1989 there was a spill at the facility of a dry cleaning solvent—perchloroethylene - commonly referred to as PERC. The former employee alleged that Mitchell had left the valve open on the back of a 55-gallon PERC drum causing the solvent to spill onto the floor. She asserted that after she informed Mitchell of the spill, he personally instructed her to “mop it up” and to “put a fan on it and it would evaporate.” As a result of the spill and clean-up, she suffered chemical burns and developed other health problems. Mitchell paid for her medical expenses personally in lieu of submitting a worker’s compensation claim.
Relying on provisions of Indiana Trial Rule 54(B), LLC filed a motion to vacate the trial court’s January 11, 2010 order entering partial summary judgment in Mitchell’s favor. The LLC contended that newly discovered inculpatory evidence established Mitchell’s individual liability. LLC filed a brief in support of its motion and attached Johnson’s statement and deposition as exhibits. Mitchell responded with a memorandum in opposition arguing in part that pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 56 newly discovered evidence must be properly designated and timely submitted—neither of which, according to Mitchell, was done in this case. The trial court entered an order granting LLC’s motion to vacate. The order declared in part the “[o]rder granting partial summary judgment was a non-final order, [and] . . . therefore is subject to revision at any time before entry of a final judgment.” The Court of Appeals granted Mitchell’s petition for interlocutory review and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
In this case, the trial court’s order granting Mitchell’s motion for partial summary judgment was not final. Rule 60(B) was amended (effective January 1, 2009) which is the current version of the Rule, and the Rule in effect at the time the LLC filed its motion. The amendment deleted the word “final” such that the rule now provides in relevant part, “the court may relieve a party or his legal representative from a judgment, including a judgment by default. . . .” So the express language of the rule no longer limits relief only from a “final” judgment . In light of the amendment, LLC is not precluded from seeking Trial Rule 60(B) relief from the trial court’s January 2010 order on grounds that the order was not a final judgment. On this point the Indiana Supreme Court held that the trial court erred and reversed.