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Appellate Litigation Clinic Wins Case in U.S. Court of Appeals

May 03, 2011

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reinstated a lawsuit against a recycling company in Elkhart, Ind., handing a victory to citizens represented by two students from the law school’s Appellate Litigation Clinic.

In a 50-page decision handed down on May 3, the court ruled that citizens may sue VIM Recycling Inc. for polluting air and water in their community, even though the state has also taken the company to court.

Kelly Payne, a 3L, had appeared before the judges in January, arguing that the citizens’ complaint raised separate issues from a suit filed by the state of Indiana. Specifically, Payne noted that the citizens’ suit addressed types of solid waste that were not covered by state regulations. She also argued that the lower court’s dismissal of the private suit contradicted the intent of congress in passing the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to allow citizens to pursue legal claims on their own.

Michael Sanford, also a 3L, had worked with Payne on writing briefs for the case as a part of the school’s Appellate Litigation Clinic, which is led by Professor Richard Frankel.

“They both mastered very complex legal doctrines and were able to demonstrate the hardship that would befall real people,” Frankel said. “They explained very clearly how the district court got it wrong when it dismissed the citizens’ suit.”

Sanford called his work “an incredible experience.”

“In the end, all of our hard work paid off and the most exciting thing about the case was that our clients finally got the justice that they truly deserved. A lot of credit goes to Professor Frankel, who spent countless hours helping Kelly and me become the best possible advocates for our clients. These skills will transcend this case and make Kelly and me better lawyers as we enter practice,” Sanford said.

Payne said it was gratifying to collaborate with Sanford and Frankel on the brief and the oral arguments.

“I’m very grateful to Drexel for giving me and the other students in the clinic the opportunity to work on a case like this,” she said.

For students to have arguments cited in a published appellate decision that makes law is remarkable, Frankel said.

Even more importantly, Frankel said the decision by the Seventh Circuit benefits citizens in every community.

“The decision upholds the rights of plaintiffs to enforce environmental laws and to keep companies accountable for their impact on the environment in the communities in which they operate,” Frankel added.

A news article covering the ruling by the Seventh Circuit appeared in the Environment Reporter, a publication of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. To read more, click here.