The unfolding legal chronicles of Chemtool, Lubrizol, Rockton, and Holian

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Lubrizol isn't talking as much these days about lithium greases, quench oils... or the Chemtool fire.

As workers continue cleaning up and demolishing Lubrizol's Chemtool facility in Rockton, judges are considering who should finally pay for the disaster which began on June 14, 2021 with a massive explosion and fire.

Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson announced on June 25, 2021 that the fire was caused by a pool of mineral oil that was accidently released by an outside contractor, later identified as Holian Insulation Company. As OSHA put it in January 2022, when it fined Holian $9,557 for safety violations, "the employer [Holian] did not ensure that adequate clearance was maintained between a scissor lift and overhead obstructions while operating a scissor lift between cooking kettles (reactors) R601 and R604. While operating the scissor lift, it struck a pressure tap on a hot oil return pipe for cooking kettle R604, resulting in an oil leak and subsequent fire." Reportedly Holian's insurance has paid Chemtool $12 million.

Chemtool's parent company Lubrizol is now suing Holian for causing the fire, referencing the OSHA fine against them. A status hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4 at 9 a.m. in Winnebago County 17th Judicial Circuit Court. Attorneys Dominique Savinelli and Jeffrey Lauderdale are representing Chemtool. Holian has been added as a third-party defendant in the Chemtool class action lawsuit in which Stephanie Mackey and Nick Mifliore are the lead plaintiffs, which was moved from the state court to the federal Northern District of Illinois, still in Rockford. The Rockton residents are being represented by lead attorneys Edward John Manzke, Robert S. Libman, and Shawn Michael Collins.



Holian's attorney Andrew Seiber asked the federal magistrate judge Lisa Jensen on June 16, 2022 to strike Chemtool's references to the OSHA violation in their lawsuit, saying they were “immaterial and unnecessary allegations," saying OSHA employees can't be called as witnesses and OSHA reports aren't admissible as evidence. But the judge ruled that bringing up the violation isn't irrelevant or prejudicial.

Chemtool had its own problems with OSHA. The month before the fire, OSHA had visited the plant because of a health and safety complaint. Their partial scope investigation was closed on October 29, 2021.

Meanwhile, the federal class action lawsuit may be moved back to the state court. That's what the Rockton attorneys have asked for. Judge Iain D. Johnston says he first needs to decide "whether the home-state exception to the Class Action Fairness Act applies in this case... whether Lubrizol counts as a primary defendant." Basically, the home-state exception to the Class Action Fairness Act says that if the case mostly involves people in Illinois, the federal judges should let Illinois judges handle it. Holian is based out of Spring Grove (Illinois) while Lubrizol is headquartered in Wickliffe (Ohio). 

Also, federal appeals judges in the Third and Eleventh Circuit have ruled that the primary defendant should be whichever party was directly responsible (perhaps the company who spilled the oil.) The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, hasn't ruled on that question yet, and Judge Johnston says, "Nobody wants to be addressing this question for the first time before the Seventh Circuit." So he has given all the parties until August 5 to present position papers on whether Lubrizol is the primary defendant.

Upcoming status hearings in 17th Judicial Circuit Court include Charles K Grasley et al. vs. Chemtool Incorporated et al., which is Aug. 2, 2022 at 11 a.m., and Chemtool Incorporated vs. Holian Insulation Company Inc, which is Aug. 4, 2022 at 9 a.m. We reached out to all the attorneys for comment but only Mr. Seiber responded - to say that he had no comments.

Meanwhile, Lubrizol's website is currently focusing more on the company's beauty and personal care products (part of its Advanced Materials section) rather than the additive and lubricant products that Chemtool manufactured. A division called Lubrizol Life Science – Beauty is touting its More-Than-A-Conditioning Shampoo.

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