U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Summary Judgment

The Sixth Circuit rendered its opinion in Freeman v. Blue Ridge Paper Products Inc. on July 9, 2013, affirming the September 13, 2012 order of United States District Court Judge Ronnie Greer whereby Plaintiffs’ class action complaint was dismissed by summary judgment.  The opinion, written by the Honorable David A. Katz, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, sitting by designation, reflected the decision of a unanimous three-judge Panel, holding that Judge Greer had properly reviewed the relevant precedent and had used the correct standard when he ruled that Plaintiffs had failed to provide the required evidence of causation to support their claims of nuisance in the litigation filed against Defendant Blue Ridge Paper.

This is a class action for nuisance under North Carolina law in which the Plaintiffs, real property owners on the Pigeon River in Cocke County, Tennessee, claimed damages due to the lawful operation of a paper mill located on the Pigeon River in North Carolina, twenty-six miles upriver from the Tennessee / Cocke County line.  Plaintiffs’ complaint relates to the River’s color, odor and foam, all conditions which allegedly are due to Defendant’s North Carolina paper mill.  These same Plaintiffs have brought multiple lawsuits against the paper mill for over twenty years, the preceding suit resulting in a jury verdict against the Defendant.

This decision of Judge Greer, as affirmed by the Sixth Circuit, is the first time the Defendant successfully defended the paper mill.  The Defendant asserted, and the trial and appellate court so found, that Plaintiff failed to provide evidence that any chemical from the paper mill’s operation was in the water in the State of Tennessee.  Therefore, no claim for nuisance could be maintained as no action of the Defendant had caused damage to the Plaintiffs.

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