The owner of a plastics recycling and sales company says in a court filing the city of Richmond is liable for damages caused by an April 11 fire.

Seth Smith and Cornerstone Trading Group LLC have been sued by Tushawn Craig, Marquetta Stokes and Limitless Pallets for damages from the fire that emitted toxic smoke for two days. The plaintiffs have asked that the lawsuit be declared a class action.

In a case management plan filed by both sides with Superior Court 1, a synopsis of Smith’s position denies all assertions of negligence on his behalf and alleges the city is liable as the landowner of two of three properties the fire consumed. Centerstone only owned 308 N.W. F St., but the company piled plastics on that property as well as neighboring 310 N.W. F St. and 358 N.W. F St.

The city’s Unsafe Building Commission had issued cleanup orders against Smith for the three properties, and former Circuit Court Judge David Kolger affirmed those orders when Smith challenged them in court. The city then utilized the tax sale process to take ownership of the two former Hoffco properties Smith had never owned. 

Because of the scope and cost of cleaning up the plastics, the city had agreed that Smith should continue selling the plastics to clear the properties, and that process was ongoing. The plastics inventory was collateral for a First Bank Richmond loan Smith had received.

The case synopsis indicates Smith believes that because he never had title to the two properties, he was never obligated to maintain them. It also alleges the city allowed homeless people to occupy the properties.

The Case Management Plan established deadlines for different aspects of the case. Special Judge Gregory Horn has ordered that the sides attempt mediation, and scheduled trial for Feb. 10, 2024. The trial is expected to last eight days.

During the fire, a half-mile evacuation zone was established around the fire site, displacing up to 2,000 residents until the evacuation order was lifted April 16. The fire consumed the 13.8-acre complex, leaving piles of debris and rubble.

Richmond Fire Department’s investigation continues as it attempts to determine the fire’s cause. 

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A version of this article appeared in the June 14 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.