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On August 1, 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision in Arizona v. Raytheon Co., No. 12-15691 (9th Cir. Aug. 1, 2014), that may give trial courts some pause before approving future CERCLA settlements.  At issue was whether the trial court failed to adequately scrutinize consent decrees entered into between the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (the “ADEQ”) and twenty-two Potentially Responsible Parties (“PRPs”) allegedly liable under CERCLA for contamination at the Broadway-Patano Landfill Site.  The majority opinion held that the trial court’s deference to the AQED’s judgment that the settlements were fair and reasonable was impermissible, and sent the case back down for a more thorough fairness hearing.   However, the more important aspect of the decision may be that, in dicta, the Court concluded that “[e]ven if EPA had been a party to the proposed consent decrees in this case, the district court would have failed to fulfill its duty to independently scrutinize the parties’ agreements.”  Id. at 21. Read More »

In general, when a party shares communications or information protected by the attorney-client or work product privilege with a third party, the privilege is waived.  However, in many jurisdictions, if this sharing occurs when there is anticipated or actual litigation, a “common interest” exception allows parties to disclose privileged information amongst themselves while still preserving the privilege against disclosure to their adversaries.  On Monday, the New Jersey Supreme Court in O’Boyle v. Boro. of Longport, No. A-16-12, 2014 WL 355874 (N.J., July 21, 2014), expressly adopted this “common interest” rule (also often referred to as the “joint defense privilege”) so that parties to litigation in New Jersey can share privileged communications and information without the risk of destroying the underlying privilege.  Read More »

Last summer we reported on Bell v. Cheswick Generating Station, 903 F. Supp. 2d 314 (3rd Cir. 2013), a Third Circuit decision which held that the Clean Air Act does not preempt state law claims for personal and property damage caused by air pollutants.  And in March, we noted, not unsurprisingly, that defendant GenOn Power had filed a Petition for Cert to the U.S. Supreme Court.  On June 2, that Petition was denied, which may have been the impetus for the Supreme Court of Iowa to release its decison in Freeman v. Grain Processing Corp., No. 13-0723 (June 13, 2014), holding that neither the Clean Air Act nor Iowa's analogous state act pre-empted similar state law claims.  The decision is a hefty one, providing a historical overview of the Clean Air Act and preemption law and an in-depth discussion leading to the Court's final determination.  Put this one aside for one evening when you're sitting in the recliner with a glass of wine at your side.   

In a 7-2 opinion issued today, the United States Supreme Court held that CERCLA does not preempt state law statutes of repose that foreclose causes of action for personal injury and property damage claims asserted after a statutorily-prescribed time period has elapsed, effectively absolving potential defendants from liability.

The case – CTS Corp. v. Waldburger et al, 573 U.S. ___ (2014) (slip op) – involves a 2011 state-law nuisance action against the former property owner, CTS Corp., which in 1987 sold property contaminated with TCE and DCE, which it had characterized as “environmentally sound.”  More than 20 years after CTS Corp. sold the property, EPA informed subsequent property owners and adjacent landowners that their groundwater was contaminated and that the source of the contamination was the former electronics manufacturing facility operated by CTS Corp. on the property. Read More »

Landowners who find themselves in the path of an oil or gas pipeline quickly learn that their rights are limited, and that a pipeline company granted a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity hold most of the cards.  Thus, the recent decision in Alliance Pipeline, L.P. v. 4,360 Acres of Land, No. 13-1003 (8th Cir. Mar. 24, 2014), which in a mere 10 pages washed aside the landowners challenges Alliance Pipeline’s condemnation action, comes as no surprise.    Read More »

This summer, we reported on the Third Circuit’s decision in the Bell v. Cheswick Generating Station case, which held that the federal Clean Air Act (“CAA”) does not preempt state common law tort claims in a putative class action filed by over 1,500 residents complaining that the operations of GenOn Power Midwest, L.P.’s (“GenOn’s) coal-fired electric generation station constituted a nuisance under Pennsylvania common law.  Read More »

Since the United States Supreme Court decided Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2451 (2011), plaintiffs in contamination cases have struggled to meet the raised bar for class certification.  And that bar was certainly not lowered by the Seventh Circuit in its decision in Parko v. Shell Oil Co., Nos. 13-8023 & 13-8024 (7th Cir. Jan 17, 2014).  Parko involved a putative class comprised of property owners in the town of Roxana, Illinois, who claimed that their property values had been diminished by benzene contamination of the groundwater from an adjacent oil refinery which had been in operation for nearly 100 years.  In checking off the certification requirements, the district court held that the question of whether the multiple defendants who owned and operated the refinery during the preceding 90 plus years failed to “contain petroleum byproduct [resulting] in contamination to Roxana property” predominated.   The Seventh Circuit panel unanimously disagreed.  Judge Posner, writing for the Court, described the opinion as necessary for clarification of a trial court’s responsibility to conduct a “rigorous analysis” of whether common issues predominate; in doing so, he did not hesitate to take the district judge to task for “treat[ing] predominance as a pleading requirement” rather than an evidentiary one.  Read More »

Last week, the Court of Appeals of New York (the state’s highest court) definitively ruled that under New York law, a plaintiff cannot assert an independent cause of action for medical monitoring.  Rather, medical monitoring in New York is only available as an element of consequential damages for another tort where a plaintiff has suffered physical injury or property damage. Read More »

In BASF v. Township of Toms River, No. 002155-2011 (N.J. Tax Court Dec. 5, 2013), the Court was asked to decide, in advance of trial, the proper methodology for determining the assessed value of a large tract of land that had been designated as a Superfund Site, but which contained large portions of uncontaminated and developable land.  While the Township sought to discount the value of only the polluted areas of the property, the owner contended that the pollution discount must be applied to the entire parcel.  And that is exactly how the Court saw it. Read More »

Determining the appropriate Statute of Limitations for claims brought pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 9601, et seq. (“CERCLA”), is often a tricky matter.  Usually, the issue arises in the context of determining whether a claim is properly brought under Section 107(a), 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a), for costs voluntarily incurred, or § 113(f), 42 U.S.C. § 9613(f), for costs incurred pursuant to a court order or approved settlement, as Section 107(a) claims may be subject to a six-year statute of limitations, while claims under Section 113(f) have a three-year limitations period.  However, in State of New York v. Next Millenium Realty, LLC, No. 12-2894-cv (2nd Cir. Oct. 15, 2013), the Second Circuit turned its attention to a different distinction, the one between removal actions and remedial actions, as Section 107(a) claims “must be commenced … for a removal action, within 3 years after completion of the removal action [and] for a remedial action, within 6 years after initiation of physical on-site construction of the remedial action. . . .”  42 U.S.C. Section 9613(g)(2)(B).  In order to find the claims of the State of New York timely, the Court held that a water purification system in use for over 15 years was nevertheless a removal action and not a remedial action because, among other things, the measures were intended to “minimize and mitigate” damage from contamination and not to “permanently eliminate” it.  Id. at 24. Read More »