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Cole v. Marathon Oil Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

October 25, 2016

GREGORY COLE and ANNIE SHIELDS, on Behalf of Themselves and all Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Marathon Oil Corp. et. al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          Sean F. Cox United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Gregory Cole and Annie Shields (“Plaintiffs”) bring this putative class action against Defendants Marathon Oil Corporation, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, and Marathon Petroleum LP (“Defendants”). Plaintiffs allege that they have suffered damages as a result of Defendants' wrongful emission, release and discharge of contaminants from Defendants' refinery, located in southwest Detroit. Plaintiffs' complaint includes a private nuisance claim, a strict liability claim, and a negligence claim.

         This matter is currently before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. #18, Def.s' Br.). In it, Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' complaint on the following grounds: (1) Plaintiffs have not stated a plausible nuisance claim; (2) Plaintiffs' nuisance claim is untimely; (3) Plaintiffs have not stated a plausible negligence claim; (4) Plaintiffs' negligence claim is untimely; and (5) there is no stand-alone claim for strict liability or for punitive damages in Michigan.

         The parties have fully briefed the issues and the Court entertained oral argument as to the motion on October 20, 2016. The Court shall GRANT Defendants' motion because: (1) Plaintiffs' nuisance and negligence claims are time-barred; and (2) because Michigan has not expressly adopted a stand-alone strict liability claim.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         This case involves the alleged “past, present and/or continuing” release of toxic pollutants from Defendants' refinery on and around Plaintiffs' residential properties in southwest Detroit. (See e.g. Doc. #4, Am. Compl. at ¶ 5, 13, 19, 21, 55-56, 59). Plaintiffs' amended complaint sets forth the following relevant factual allegations.

         Defendants operate a refinery located at 1300 S. Fort Street in Detroit, Michigan. (Id. at ¶ 1). Plaintiffs are residents of southwest Detroit, owning residential properties on Liebold Street. (Id. at ¶ 12-13). Plaintiffs seek to represent a class of other similarly situated individuals who also live near Defendants' refinery.

         Plaintiffs allege that the operation of Defendants' Detroit refinery releases sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, benzene, toluene, methyl ethyl ketone, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and toxic and hazardous substances (collectively, “refinery contaminants”) into the residential area where Plaintiffs live. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 4, 24).

         Such refinery contaminants have allegedly been linked to asthma, cancer, lung disease, nervous system harm, blindness and other serious illness. (Id. at ¶ 68). Plaintiffs also allege that the refinery creates unreasonable noise, odors, vapors and fumes. (Id. at ¶ 14-15).

         According to Plaintiffs, the refinery contaminants “became airborne or otherwise scattered and travel through the air, environment and subsurface so that persons and properties in the Class Area ...” were and continue to be exposed. (Id. at ¶ 25). Plaintiffs further allege that “[t]he exposures, pollution, noise, odors and disturbance caused by defendants' Detroit refinery operations is a blight on the community, deprives plaintiffs of the use and enjoyment of their properties and exposes plaintiffs to toxic and hazardous substances.” (Id. at ¶ 32).

         Plaintiffs allege that they have suffered significant harm, inconvenience, serious annoyance, discomfort, fear of adverse health effects, and destruction of their community as a result of the refinery's operations. (Id. at ¶ 55, 62).

         Defendants have allegedly failed to safely remove and abate hazardous refinery contaminants and have failed to advise or warn Plaintiffs of the dangers associated with such contaminants. (Id. at ¶ 86). Consequently, Plaintiffs have suffered and continue to suffer various economic losses. (Id. at ¶ 89).

         II. Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs commenced this putative class action on February 22, 2016. (Doc. #1, Compl.). On March 8, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, seeking “redress from the Defendants for damages suffered by members of the putative Class ... as a result of Defendants' wrongful emission, release, and discharge of” various refinery contaminants. (Doc. #4, Am. Compl.). The following are named as defendants in this ...


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