Nuisance and Negligence Claims Against Michigan Oil Refinery Are Time-Barred

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed a putative class action claiming harm from emissions of oil refinery contaminants.  The Plaintiffs claimed the Detroit refinery was liable under private nuisance, negligence, and strict liability theories.  Plaintiffs, who lived near the refinery, alleged that the refinery released dangerous toxins into their residential area.

The court granted the refinery’s motion to dismiss, stating that the Plaintiffs’ nuisance and negligence claims were “time-barred” and that Michigan did not expressly recognize a stand-alone strict liability claim.  Both claims were subject to a three-year statute of limitations.  Plaintiffs alleged that the injuries from the tortious acts were continuous and therefore not subject to a limitations issue.  The court, however, stated that the continuous nature of the act was irrelevant because Michigan had abolished the “continuing wrongs doctrine.”  Under that doctrine, a continuous nuisance or negligence claim can toll the limitations period until a continuous wrong concludes.  The court explained that the continued operation of the refinery was “precisely the type of ‘continuous tortious acts’ that fall[s] under the continuing wrong doctrine,” and because Michigan abolished the doctrine, the Plaintiffs’ claims were untimely.  Furthermore, the court stated that Plaintiffs repeatedly failed to allege exactly when the refinery first caused the harms, and therefore, the court could not determine whether either claim accrued within the three-year limit.

Finally, the court also denied Plaintiffs’ strict liability claim.  Plaintiffs argued that Michigan had allowed other strict liability claims to proceed, but the court was unpersuaded and noted that Plaintiffs made no “reference to a single case in support.”  The court held that the strict liability claim was not a viable claim under Michigan law.


The case was number 16-cv-10642 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

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