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Class-action lawsuit against New-Indy can continue, federal judge rules

CATAWBA, S.C. (From news reports) -- The company behind a South Carolina paper mill at the center of foul odor complaints will still have to face a class-action lawsuit in federal court.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Sherri A. Lydon ruled the suit lodged against the company behind the New-Indy plant in Catawba can move forward, while also denying an alternative request from the company to dismiss the complaint entirely.

The company made a set of motions back in June 2022 asking Lydon to dismiss the suit in one way or another. New-Indy Containerboard chiefly said the complaints were not specific enough. The company also wanted the plaintiff's nuisance claim and negligence, gross negligence, and willful conduct claim dismissed, something Judge Lydon denied.

Alternatively, New-Indy Containerboad motioned to strike the class allegations from the plaintiffs, but Lydon also dismissed that.

However, Lydon did partially grant another request from New-Indy, dismissing the plaintiffs' negligence per se claim without prejudice. This does mean the plaintiffs could plead the per se claim again.

According to Lydon's order, New-Indy Containerboard, the first-tier parent company of New-Indy Catawba, claimed they had no relevant specific ties to South Carolina since New-Indy Containerboard is incorporated in Delaware and based in California. However, Lydon's ruling noted that both New-Indy Containerboard and New-Indy Catawba worked jointly as purchasing parties for the mill with New-Indy Catawba listed as the owner-operator with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Lydon noted New-Indy did not offer any evidence or rebuttal to this.

Lydon's order also said the plaintiffs reasonably stated their claims - with exception to the negligence per se claim - and ruled those could continue. Additionally, while New-Indy said the plaintiffs' proposed geographic class of a 20-mile radius around the plant was too broad, Lydon said the company was unable to prove it based on orders and reports from both DHEC and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

In a statement, attorneys representing the plaintiffs said "We are pleased with Judge Lydon's decision denying New-Indy Containerboard's motion to dismiss. As alleged in the complaint, New-Indy's harmful emissions have continued to produce a foul odor and cause numerous health issues for the citizens of surrounding communities. We look forward to continuing the fight to hold New-Indy accountable and help restore the quality of life for those affected by the papermill's careless operation."

Complaints about the odors seemingly coming from the paper mill have dated back to 2020. WCNC Charlotte started keeping track as more people spoke up as early as March 2021. The complaints have led to state and federal-level investigations, outrage from South Carolina lawmakers, local protests, and fines levied against the company.

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