Pennsylvania Federal Court Sorts Through Claims Against Coke Plant, Dismisses Count For Punitive Damages

In a case involving a group of Pennsylvania plaintiffs that alleges injuries from “noxious odors and air particulates” allegedly emanating from a coke plant, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania examined the plaintiffs’ claims in deciding a motion to dismiss last week.  The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ public nuisance claim because the plaintiffs failed to identify a specific harm that the public would suffer beyond the alleged harm that the particular plaintiffs would suffer.  The court allowed the private nuisance claim to proceed given that plaintiffs alleged a loss of use and enjoyment of their land and a loss of property value.

The court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages because plaintiffs failed to make factual assertions to support a conclusion that the defendant company had undertaken “outrageous” conduct.  The plaintiffs argued that the punitive damage claim had been alleged based on allegations that the facility was the subject of “frequent complaints” from neighbors, that it had the capacity of producing up to 320,000 metric tons of coke annually, and that the company knew about the impact of the facility on its neighbors, but the court said these allegations “falls woefully short of alleging” facts sufficient to warrant punitive damages under Pennsylvania law.

The court also allowed the plaintiffs’ trespass claims to proceed given that the plaintiffs plead that the noxious odors allegedly emanating from the coke plant invaded their property, caused harm, and that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s six citations to the coke plant since April 2014 for “illegal-air emissions” was reasonable to infer that the defendant company “was not taking all reasonable action to prevent particulate matter from becoming airborne from the coal-handling area.”


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