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In the latest development in the ongoing dispute between EQT Production Company (“EQT”) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) over DEP’s calculation of continuing violations of the Clean Streams Law (“CSL”), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that Section 301 of the CSL prohibits acts or omissions resulting in the initial active discharge or entry of industrial waste into waters of the Commonwealth, and does not authorize ongoing penalties for the continuing presence of that industrial waste in waters of the Commonwealth after its initial entry.  The Commonwealth Court’s decision in this case, EQT Production Co. v. Dept. of Envt’l Prot., No. 485 M.D. 2014 (Jan. 11, 2017), comes over one year after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided EQT Production Co. v. Dept. of Envt’l Prot., 130 A.3d 752 (Pa. 2015), which we reported on, holding that EQT may be permitted to challenge DEP’s continuing-violation interpretation in the Commonwealth Court before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board decides and imposes the ultimate penalty, given the threat of ballooning penalties under DEP’s ongoing-violation interpretation.  Read More »

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that a PRP’s bankruptcy settlement of its CERCLA liability did not bar that PRP from later seeking contribution for a share of the settlement – despite the bankruptcy court’s determination that the settlement represented the PRP’s “fair share” of CERCLA liability.  Read More »

Last week, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied Alcoa Domestic LLC’s request that the court dismiss claims against it regarding a previously owned site, finding that Alcoa may be in breach of the Purchase and Sales Agreement for the site and thus still liable for contamination caused by the removal of materials from the site. The case, Borough of Edgewater v. Waterside Construction, LLC et al., Civil Action No. 14-5060 (D.N.J. December 14, 2016), concerns the Borough of Edgewater’s endeavor to remediate contamination at Veteran’s Field in Edgewater, New Jersey in 2012.  A New Jersey contractor, Defendant Waterside Construction, LLC (and several other interrelated companies, collectively, “Waterside”), was awarded the contract for the remediation, which required Waterside to import clean stone to be used as fill in certain areas of the Veteran’s Field site.  Subsequent inspections revealed that the fill was contaminated, and Waterside admitted that the fill material originated from the former Alcoa Site, which is contaminated. Read More »

In the latest development in Olin Corporation v. Insurance Co. of North America, No. 1:84-CV-01968, (S.D.N.Y., 11/21/2016), a 30-plus year old case between plaintiff Olin Corporation (“Olin”) and its insurance provider, defendant Insurance Company of North America (“INA”), a judge of the Southern District Court of New York ultimately ordered the insurer to reimburse Olin $1.7 million for litigation costs it incurred in connection with a 2003 lawsuit concerning hazardous waste contamination at one of Olin’s properties originating in the 1950s. Read More »

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 »