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Professors and Students Help Secure Major Victory in Environmental Case

Faculty and students who helped secure victory in environmental case in Indiana

December 01, 2015

Residents of an Indiana community plagued by polluted air and water from a nearby recycling company won a long-awaited legal victory, with significant help from faculty and students.

The chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana South Bend Division awarded a group of Elkhart, Ind. residents more than $50 million in damages, plus more than $270,000 in legal fees and costs in a judgment against VIM Recycling and K.C. Industries. 

The Nov. 24 ruling followed a protracted legal battle in which Professor Alex Geisinger, Appellate Litigation Clinic Director Richard Frankel, Dean Roger Dennis and several students made important contributions along the plaintiffs’ long road to victory.

In 2011, students working with Frankel in the Appellate Litigation Clinic kept the residents’ legal battle against the recycling company alive, persuading the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to reinstate a lawsuit that the district court had dismissed, citing actions taken against the recycling company by state regulators.  Kelly Payne, ’11, had argued the case before the appellate judges, with help from Frankel and assistance writing the briefs for the case from her classmate, Michael Sanford.

Following that victory, the case went back to court, led by Kim Ferraro, senior staff attorney at the Hoosier Environmental Council and a former student of Geisinger’s from his days at Valparaiso University School of Law.  Geisinger, who remained the head of the Legal Environmental Aid Foundation’s board of advisors even after coming to Drexel in 2006, continued providing Ferraro with guidance as she pursued the residents’ claims.

In 2012, Geisinger engaged ’12 alums Brian Krier and John Steed, who were 3Ls at the time, to gather information about the recycling company’s shifting ownership, a critical task in holding the polluter accountable for its actions.

Geisinger said that Dean Roger Dennis, a securities expert, provided important guidance for that research.

“The wheels of justice move slowly,” Geisinger said, praising the teamwork that went into the victory. “But this is why we do this.”