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Tranguch plaintiff appeals dismissal by county judge

Franklin Tarantino’s family among 1,000 plaintiffs in Hazleton fuel leak case.

WILKES-BARRE – One of the remaining plaintiffs in an 11-year-old gasoline spill lawsuit has appealed a county judge’s ruling in the case that dismissed the lawsuit in favor of Exxon Mobil Corp.

Attorneys for Franklin Tarantino also appealed former Judge Lewis Wetzel’s ruling, throwing out a request by Tarantino to void orders and settlement agreements made by disgraced ex-Judge Mark Ciavarella.

The appeals were filed with the state Superior Court earlier this month.

“The fact is that other families went to trial, and my family also has that right,” Tarantino said. “Why Judge Wetzel would deny us that right with that ruling is beyond my ability to understand.”

Tarantino’s family was one of 1,000 plaintiffs who originally filed a lawsuit alleging fuel leaks at the former Tranguch Tire and Service Station on Church Street in Hazleton entered the ground, causing residents to come down with diseases, including cancer.

The case, commonly called the Laurel Gardens gas spill, involved the Tranguch business, which closed in 1995 after filing for bankruptcy.

A trial was held in September 2010 for some plaintiffs in the case, and the jury ruled those plaintiffs would not receive any money, but that Exxon Mobil and Tranguch were partially responsible for the spill.

Hundreds of other plaintiffs in the case resolved their lawsuits in March 2011. The terms of the resolutions were not disclosed.

In November 2009, Tarantino, who had previously represented himself in the case, made requests to have orders and settlements made by Ciavarella thrown out, based on the fact that defendants and attorneys involved in the case made campaign contributions to Ciavarella in his bid for judge.

Tarantino said in his filing he felt as if Ciavarella forced him to sign an agreement to settle the case and settlement offers were “grossly unfair.”

Wetzel, who denied the request just before he left office in December, granted a motion for summary judgment for Exxon Mobil.

Attorneys for Exxon Mobil in August filed a motion for summary judgment and asked that the lawsuit be dismissed based on there being no “evidence of an intentional act” on behalf of Exxon Mobil, and that Exxon Mobil did not control the gasoline at Tranguch when it was sold to Tranguch by another distributor.

Sean McDonough, an attorney for Exxon Mobil, did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.

Tarantino’s attorney, Sean Logsdon, said the legal issues presented were similar to arguments that had been made in other lawsuits filed in connection with the Tranguch spill. In those cases, other judges allowed the case to proceed to a jury.

Logsdon said Wetzel did not issue an opinion detailing his legal reasoning, so he doesn’t know why Wetzel ruled differently than the other judges.

Staff writer Terrie Morgan-Besecker contributed to this report.

Hundreds of other plaintiffs in the case resolved their lawsuits in March 2011. The terms of the resolutions were not disclosed.

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