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In the recent decision of Cole v. Marathon Oil Corporation, Case No. 16-10642 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 25, 2016), a district court in the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed, in its entirety, a putative class action lawsuit against a refinery operated by the Marathon Oil Corporation (“Marathon”).  The court dismissed two of the complaint’s three common law claims as time-barred under Michigan law because the complaint failed to plead a “plausible” basis for the court to infer that the claims accrued within the limitations period, and the third cause of action, strict liability, was dismissed on the ground that it is not an independently-recognized cause of action in Michigan.  The decision suggests that, at least under Michigan law, plaintiffs in tort cases must allege more than mere ongoing harm when the allegations on the face of the complaint do not anticipate and provide a plausible basis to avoid an obvious, although unstated, statute of limitations problem. Read More »

On Halloween, the New Jersey Appellate Division issued a potentially “scary” ruling and cautionary tale for owners of contaminated property who first remediate the conditions, and then later decide to pursue other potentially responsible parties (“PRPs”) to recover costs associated with the cleanup efforts under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act (the “Spill Act”).  In Pollitt Drive, LLC v. Engel et al., Dkt. No. A-4833-13T3 (App. Div., Oct. 31, 2016), the Appellate Division affirmed a trial court finding that the plaintiff, property owner Pollit Drive, LLC (“Pollit”), improperly discarded a corroded pipe, sump pit, and concrete floor that were located beneath a building at an industrial property that formerly housed various commercial printing businesses, thus warranting sanctions for spoliation of evidence.  Spoliation occurs when a party violates its duty to preserve evidence that could be relevant to a matter at issue in litigation.  The duty to preserve evidence generally arises when a party has actual knowledge of pending litigation, or when litigation is “probable.”  Spoliation can result in the court issuing various degrees of sanctions, ranging from an adverse inference, a prohibition from introducing anything related to the spoliated evidence, striking pleadings, payment of attorneys’ fees, or the most harsh sanction – a complete dismissal of the case.   Read More »

In a toxic tort class action involving a chemical spill that may have affected thousands of individuals in an immediate geographic area, the Eighth Circuit held that class action plaintiffs’ expert report definitively alleging damages greater than $5 million triggered defendant’s 30-day removal period under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”), but held that an earlier letter from plaintiffs’ counsel “recommending” a settlement over $5 million did not.  Gibson v. Clean Harbors Environmental Services, Inc., No. 16-8012, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 19073 (8th Cir. Oct. 24, 2016).  CAFA was enacted in 2005 and expanded federal diversity jurisdiction to include a greater number of class actions and other multi-plaintiff actions.  Among other things, CAFA provides that where a putative class includes greater than 100 members seeking greater than $5 million, the defendant may remove the action, regardless of traditional diversity requirements. Read More »

A U.S. District Court recently considered two questions in response to a citizen suit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”) requesting injunctive relief while an ongoing state-court proceeding over the remediation was already ongoing: (1) whether the Court could enter injunctive relief even though the state-proceeding was ongoing; and (2) whether the Court should enter injunctive relief in light of the state-proceeding.  In the case, LAJIM, LLC, et al. v. General Electric Co., No. 13 CV 50348 (N.D. Ill. October 4, 2016), the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois first held that RCRA “plainly authorizes” injunctive relief in citizen suits, even when a state proceeding is ongoing.  But the Court found that it needed additional facts to determine whether the injunctive relief was appropriate in the case before it, and established an action plan to make such a finding.     Read More »

In December of 2013, in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013) (“Robinson II”), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, among other things, struck down as unconstitutional provisions of the 2012 amendments to Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act, also referred to as Act 13 regarding statewide zoning laws and municipalities’ abilities to enact ordinances affecting the oil and gas industry.  On Wednesday September 28th, in Robinson's second round before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (Robinson IV), the Court invalidated additional provisions of Act.

The remand of Robinson II to the Commonwealth Court required the lower court to determine whether or not certain provisions of the Act regarding the review of municipal ordinances affecting oil and gas operations were severable from the Act 13 provisions that were found unconstitutional.  The remand also required the Commonwealth Court to determine; (a) whether two other Act 13 sections, one related to the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemical trade secrets to health professionals and the other related to the scope of PADEP notification requirements after spills, violated Article III, Section 32 (no “special laws”) or Article III, Section 3 (the “single subject rule”) of the Pennsylvania Constitution; and (b) whether another Act 13 section regarding the use of eminent domain for gas storage violated the 5th amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The case before the Supreme Court was an appeal to the Commonwealth Court’s ruling on these issues. Read More »

Earlier this month, for the first time a New Jersey trial court applied the often pled, but seldom effective, laches defense to bar a private-party claim for contribution under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act (the “Spill Act”).  Laches is an equitable principle that can be used to defend a claim that has become too “stale” by the plaintiff’s unreasonable delay in pursuing the claim, and where the defendant has suffered some harm from the delay.  Laches can bar a claim even if the plaintiff initiates the lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations, or where no statute of limitations exists – such is the case for private party contribution claims under the Spill Act, which last year the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed in Morristown Assoc. v. Grant Oil Co., 220 N.J. 360 (2015) are not subject to any statute of limitations.  In light of the Morristown decision, private claims for contribution under the Spill Act could therefore be brought decades after the discovery of contamination at a site.   Read More »

In the recent decision of United States of America v. Boston and Maine Corporation, C.A. No. 13-10087-IT (D. Mass. Sept. 22, 2016), a Massachusetts federal judge ruled that issuance of a ROD was the completion date of a removal action for statute of limitations purposes even though the actual remedial activities had been completed nearly 13 years earlier.  In reaching this conclusion, the Court also examined the often vexing distinction between removal and remedial activities and the question of what constitutes a “facility” under CERCLA. Given the posture of the case, the decision may also serve to underscore the deference courts often afford to the federal government when it, rather than a private party, is seeking to recover costs.    Read More »

Three public-water-system-operating California cities brought suit in the Northern District of California against Monsanto alleging that Monsanto’s manufacture and sale of PCB-containing products from the 1930s through the 1970s caused pollution that increased the cities’ cost and ability to comply with federal stormwater discharge regulations for discharge into the San Francisco Bay.  Monsanto sought to dismiss the claims and in City of San Jose v. Monsanto Company, Nos. 15-3178, 15-5152, & 16-0071 (N.D.CA. Aug. 22, 2016), the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted the motion, but allowed the municipalities to amend their complaints as to their nuisance causes of action. Read More »

In a case of first impression in the Third Circuit, the Honorable Eduardo C. Robreno has held that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”) may not, under CERCLA, recover costs from current landowners if the costs were incurred prior to the owner's purchase of contaminated property.  In PADEP v. Trainer Custom Chemical LLC, No. 15-1232 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 30, 2016), PADEP sought to recover, among other things, over $800,000 in electricity bills which it had paid prior to October, 2012 to keep certain remediation equipment operating at the Stoney Creek Technologies Superfund Site (the “Site”), which Site was subsequently purchased by the defendant, Trainer Custom Chemical, LLC.  PADEP's claim for such costs was rejected by Judge Robreno, who held that “a new owner is not liable for recovery costs incurred before he took ownership of the facility.”  Id. at *21. Read More »

In a decision issued today in Pa. Independent Oil & Gas Assoc. v. Commonwealth, No. 321 M.D. 2015, a seven-member panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that Section 3215(c) of Act 13, the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, remains enforceable despite the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013).  Section 3215(c) provides that when making a determination on a proposed oil and gas well, DEP “shall consider” the impact of the proposed well on public resources, including parks, rivers, landmarks, historic sites, flora and fauna habitat, and public drinking water sources.  Read More »