Andrew Thomason Sep. 6, 2013, 4:36pm

More than a dozen lawsuits over a fatal train accident have been removed from Cook County Circuit Court to federal court.

As of Sept. 3, defense attorneys for Western Petroleum Co. and its subsidiary, Petroleum Transport Solutions LLC, removed 19 suits to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

All of the suits stem from a July 6 oil train derailment and explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people. The suits allege wrongful death and negligence, or similar charges, against the train operator, the designer of the train cars and others involved in the incident.

The notices of removal, which were filed in late August and early September, center on the defendants’ geographic diversity and fellow defendant Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway’s (MMAR) Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

In the removal notices, attorneys for Western Petroleum Co. claim the suits belong in federal court because diversity of citizenship exists between the parties and the amount at issue exceeds $75,000.

MMAR was the train operator during the incident and is the daughter company Rail World Inc., a co-defendant in the suits.  Rail World's corporate offices are in Rosemont.

Co-defendant Edward Burkhardt, president and chief executive officer of Rail World, and MMAR chairman, is a Cook County resident. Other defendants in the suits have corporate offices in Florida, Maine, Minnesota and Nevada.

The plaintiffs in the wrongful death and negligence suits are all Canadian citizens.

As for the potential amount of damages, “it is apparent from the pleadings that more than $75,000 is in controversy,” Western Petroleum Co. attorney Mark Filip wrote in several of the removal notices. “As noted, plaintiffs seek recovery for alleged wrongful death, pain and suffering.”

The other argument Western Petroleum Co. makes in its recent filings involves Chapter 11 bankruptcy jurisdiction. MMAR filed for bankruptcy shortly after the derailment.

In several of the removal notices, Filip cites Zerand–Bernal Group, Inc. v. Cox, a case that states suits against defendants that, if not for bankruptcy proceedings, would normally stand alone, can be forced into bankruptcy court “so that all claims by and against the debtor can be determined in the same forum.”

Filip, an attorney at Kirkland & Ellis LLP in Chicago and one of several defense attorneys in the case, wrote that the outcome of the various suits will affect the bankruptcy proceedings.

He added in those notices that one of Western Petroleum Co.’s reason for removing the suits to federal court deals with the plaintiffs’ contention that their claims against the company “depend on WPC’s and PTS’s conduct ‘with respect to the corporate debtor,’ namely MMAR.”

The defendants in many of the suits have consented to the removal and as of earlier this month, at least one of the 19 suits had been set for a status hearing.

Although the suits were filed separately, many of the plaintiffs are represented by the same attorneys, including Peter Flowers of Meyers & Flowers in Chicago and Daniel Edelman of Edelman, Combs, Latturner & Goodwin LLC in Chicago

Court documents show that in addition to Filip, some of the other defendants are represented by Leslie Smith, also of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Tiffany Amlot, Alan Scott Gilbert and Steven Merouse of Dentons US LLP in Chicago, as well as William Andrichik, Cal Burnton, Michael Dockterman, Megan Hugo and Edward Walker, all of Edwards, Wildman & Palmer LLP in Chicago.

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Cook County Circuit Court
50 W Washington St
Chicago, IL 60602

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