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 Post subject: Ringwood residents hail judge's reversal
PostPosted: Sun Aug 19, 2007 9:32 pm 
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Ringwood residents hail judge's reversal

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qst ... k3MTczNTE4

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

By BARBARA WILLIAMS
STAFF WRITER

The multimillion-dollar claim by Upper Ringwood residents against Ford Motor Co. is headed for state court after a judge ultimately rejected Ford's arguments that the lawsuit should be heard at the federal level.

The decision, made public this week, was treated as good news by the residents and their attorneys, who adhere to the belief that the state system is more pro-citizen and pro-environment than federal courts.

"It's a blessing," Wayne Mann, one of the community leaders, said Tuesday. "We'll finally get a chance to present the evidence to a jury, and I don't think that would have happened in a federal court."

More than 700 current and former residents claim in their suit that a multitude of illnesses including cancers, asthma, and skin diseases have been caused by waves of industrial waste dumped in their neighborhood by Ford. The auto giant's contractors failed to remove huge dumps of toxic sludge in a Superfund cleanup a decade ago, and the complaint alleges fraud and negligence and seeks medical monitoring and financial compensation.

In a renewed cleanup, Ford -- again under the direction of the federal Environmental Protection Agency -- has removed more than 25,000 tons of paint sludge from the site since 2004. Excavation work continues, but no one can say if the former mining area will ever be free of contamination.

Ford spokesman Jon Holt said on Tuesday, "The company is reviewing the opinion and has no further comment."

Ford's lawyers argued a year ago that the matter should be heard in federal court because the company is working under the direction of the EPA, a federal agency. U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano in Newark initially agreed and sent the case to the federal system.

But in another case -- Watson v. Philip Morris Cos. -- the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that acting under a federal officer does not mean that a case should be heard at the federal level. Pisano cited the case in reversing his decision.

He said in part, "The fact that the federal government is directing, supervising and monitoring a company's activities does not necessarily allow the company to remove a case to federal court on the basis that the company is 'acting under' an 'officer' of the United States."

Kevin Madonna, one of the lawyers representing the residents, said that "the decision made it clear that a defendant who fails to comply with federal laws cannot claim that it was acting under the direction of a federal officer."

The suit also names Ringwood as a defendant. Al Telsey, a lawyer for the borough, said the move back to state Superior Court in Paterson was expected, given the Supreme Court decision.

"We're disappointed that the case is being pingponged back and forth, because it disserves the plaintiffs and it disserves the borough, to have to repeat everything we did before. This case has been going on for a year and a half," Telsey said, noting that it was filed in January 2006.

Staff Writer Jan Barry contributed to this article. E-mail: williamsb@northjersey.com


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