Case against scrap yard is dismissed

March 06, 1995|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Sun Staff Writer

A city judge has dismissed a suit brought by Southwest Baltimore neighbors of a noisy automobile scrap yard, ruling that residents filed their suit 51 years too late against the longtime polluter.

Last week, Baltimore Circuit Judge Hilary D. Caplan threw out the suit filed in February 1993 by neighbors of United Iron and Metal Co., which operates the 18-acre scrap yard behind the 2600 block of Wilkens Ave. in the Mill Hill community.

In dismissing the case before it came to trial, Judge Caplan stated that the time for filing the suit ran out three years after the scrap yard became a nuisance -- in 1939.

The judge also cited a lack of evidence that the scrap yard's owners were motivated by evil intent or malice, even though the neighbors did establish "evidence of [United Iron's] pursuit of their own business interests at the expense of others."

Macy Nelson, attorney for the residents, said he intends to appeal the case, which seeks $40 million in damages. He said, "After more than 30 years you can conclude they're doing it for profit without regard for anybody else. That's evil motive."

But Gary R. Jones, a lawyer representing the David J. Joseph Co., owner of the scrap yard, said his clients have arranged a meeting with Mill Hill community representatives for this week "to discuss improvements to the facility and other matters felt desirable to the community for the Joseph company to remain a good neighbor."

For decades, government records show, neighbors have complained to health, environmental and elected officials of heavy vibrations and explosions from the company's car smashing "shredder." Blue smoke permeates the air, and pieces of "fluff" from car interiors float into their yards.

Judge Caplan's decision disappointed the residents who had sued.

"I really feel disgusted," said plaintiff Dianne Hoffman. "We've been fighting for years. I can remember my grandmother living there and my mother, and it seems like [the pollution] is getting worse and they get away with more every day."

In an unsuccessful attempt to prove fraudulent activity by the scrap yard owner, Mr. Nelson introduced a copy of a 1992 memo from the yard manager, telling subordinates how to notify a state environmental official of explosions.

"Give him the basics, do not give him the details with regards to the severity of the explosion . . . this should be done within five minutes of the explosion, and therefore prevent their coming to the yard to inspect," the memo says.

Judge Caplan, in his opinion, said the memo does not constitute fraud because the company did not fail to report explosions and did not prevent state regulators from visiting the plant to investigate.

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