The owner of a plastics company blames damages from an April fire on the city of Richmond and an “unknown arsonist” and has asked a lawsuit against himself and the company be dismissed.

Seth Smith and his company, Cornerstone Trading Group LLC, responded last week to a lawsuit seeking damages from them. Tushawn Craig, Marquetta Stokes and Limitless Pallets LLC sued Smith and Cornerstone, and they hope the action will be certified a class-action lawsuit. Cornerstone has also now added the city of Richmond to the lawsuit as a third-party defendant.

The shared response by Smith and Cornerstone indicate the April 11 plastics fire on three North West F Street properties began on a property owned by the city of Richmond. Cornerstone owns 380 N.W. F St.; however, it has never owned the 308 and 310 N.W. F St. properties where it stored plastics. The city assumed ownership through tax sale procedures in an attempt to facilitate cleanup of the sites, which had been deemed hazardous.

The response also alleges that the “initial ignition which resulted in the subsequent fire was caused by an unknown arsonist.” That party, the response says, is responsible for any claimed injuries and damages caused to Craig, Stokes or Limitless Pallets.

Richmond Fire Department, which is investigating the fire with assistance from the Indiana State Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has not yet identified the fire’s cause, according to Chief Tim Brown, let alone ruled an arsonist started the fire.

“There is no determination yet; it’s still an active investigation,” Brown said.

Smith and Cornerstone end their response with a motion to dismiss the lawsuit against them because the city owned the real estate where the fire started and by claiming the lawsuit does not contain “sufficient factual grounds” to hold Smith or Cornerstone accountable.

Judge Gregory Horn, who’s serving as the special judge for the lawsuit in Superior Court 1, has given the lawsuit’s plaintiffs until Sept. 5 to respond to the motion for dismissal. Smith and Cornerstone then have until Sept. 20 to reply to that response. A hearing on the motion to dismiss has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 11.

That is six months after the fire began in a pile of plastics. Smith and Cornerstone had stored plastics inventory across most of the 13.8 acres comprising the three North West F Street properties. The fire consumed all of the plastics and burned for two days, creating a plume of toxic smoke. 

Up to 2,000 residents within a half-mile of the site were ordered to evacuate their homes. The evacuation order was lifted April 16.

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A version of this article appeared in the July 12 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

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