Supreme Court Sides With Va. Landlord Over Renters in Toxic Mold Lawsuit

December 1, 2005

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week against Virginia renters who claimed they were sickened by toxic mold in their apartment building, in a decision that clarifies where personal injury cases should be heard.

The issue is significant in the long-running political debate over reining in large jury awards in consumer lawsuits filed in state courts.

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said an appeals court was wrong to insist that a Virginia subsidiary of the apartment manager, Texas-based Lincoln Property Co., should share responsibility in defending the lawsuit.

“The potential liability of other parties was a matter plaintiffs’ counsel might have assiduously explored” through further investigation, Ginsburg wrote.

Under federal rules, a defendant has a right to “remove” a case from state to federal court when the two parties are citizens of different states and the claimed damages exceed $75,000.

Christophe and Juanita Roche sued Lincoln Property in Virginia state court over exposure to toxic mold in their Fairfax County apartment. The Roches alleged the mold caused severe medical problems, including chronic headaches, memory loss and respiratory trouble.

The company sought transfer of the case to federal court, where it was dismissed. When the Roches asked the trial court to send the case back to state court the judge refused and they appealed.

The case is Lincoln Property Co. et al v. Roche, 04-712.

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