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In two recent decisions, courts have continued to preclude “classic” tort claims without proof of a current symptomatic condition and to place substantial limits on medical monitoring clams under state common law. In Benoit v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation, No. 17-3941 (2d Cir. 2020), the Second Circuit affirmed a district court’s denial of defendants’ motion to dismiss medical monitoring damages based on personal injury but cast significant doubt of the viability of such relief in the absence of any physical manifestation of exposure.  And in Letart v. Union Carbide Corporation, No. 2:19-cv-00877 (S.D. W.Va. 2020), the Court granted a motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ common law claims but allowed medical monitoring claims related to ethylene oxide (“EtO”) emissions to proceed, yet without addressing or determining whether the plaintiffs can meet the evidentiary requirements for such claims.  Read More »

On May 4, 2020, the Third Circuit issued a precedential opinion affirming the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey’s decision that the United States Government (the “Government”) is not liable as an operator under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) for its involvement at a chromite ore processing plant in New Jersey during World Wars I and II. PPG Indus. Inc. v. United States, No. 19-1165, slip op. (3d Cir. May 4, 2020). The decision clarifies the applicable standard for parties seeking to hold the Government liable as an operator for cleanup costs at contaminated former defense sites. Read More »

Today, the Supreme Court altered Clean Water Act jurisprudence when it vacated and remanded a closely-watched Ninth Circuit decision which pertained to the federal government’s authority to oversee of the migration of pollution through groundwater to navigable waters. See County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., No. 18-260, 590 U.S. ____ (Apr. 23, 2020). In writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice Breyer presented the central issue of the litigation as “whether the [Clean Water] Act ‘requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source,’ here, ‘groundwater.’” Id. at 1 (internal citations omitted). The Court held that a permit issued under the Clean Water Act is required “if the addition of the pollutants through groundwater is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters.” Id. Because the “functional equivalent” standard is slightly amorphous, the Court introduced several factors to aid courts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the regulated community in making permitting determinations. See Breyer Factors, below. Read More »

In a highly anticipated decision, on April 20, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state courts may award restoration damages to landowners who seek, under state law, a more expensive cleanup than that selected by EPA, but as potentially responsible parties under CERCLA they must first receive EPA’s approval of their alternative cleanup plan before they would be entitled to those damages. Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian, et al., No. 17-1498 (U.S. Apr. 20, 2020). Beyond its fact-specific holding, the opinion’s broader implications may have a significant impact on CERCLA cleanups and litigation going forward.   Read More »

In Frazer/Exton Development, L.P. v. United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a takings claim against the federal government relating to environmental contamination because the appellants, current and former landowners of the site at issue, filed their lawsuit more than 6 years after environmental remediation was complete. Frazer/Exton Development, L.P. v. United States, No. 2019-2143 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 7, 2020). Read More »

It has been more than a decade since the United States Supreme Court decided Burlington Northern & S.F. R. Co. v. United States, 129 S. Ct. 1870 (2009), holding that liability under Section 107(a) of CERCLA is not necessarily joint and several, but in appropriate circumstances can be divisible. And yet, courts still struggle to determine when liability is divisible and thus subject to apportionment rather than equitable allocation, with the latter, joint and several liability, still remaining the go to default. The March 30, 2020 decision from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, in the case of Von Duprin, LLC v. Moran Electric Service, Inc., No. 1:16-cv-01942-TWP—DML (S.D. Ind. Mar. 30, 2020), is no exception. The Court found that liability for a comingled plume of volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”) was divisible, but then applied equitable factors to allocate liability. And, in getting to its final decision, the Court also discussed what costs can be recovered under 107(a), the standard for determining compliance with the National Contingency Plan (“NCP”), and what steps a lessee needs to take to avail itself of the bona fide prospective purchaser (“BFPP”) defense. This is going to be a long one, so pull up a chair. Read More »

On April 7, 2020, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court rendered its decision in New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Hess, A-2893-18T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. Apr. 7, 2020), one of the lawsuits in which the State of New Jersey (the “State”) is seeking to recover natural resource damages (“NRDs”). Earlier this year we flagged the Appellate Court’s opinion as one to watch in 2020, particularly with respect to how the Appellate Court would rule on the State’s ability to assert a claim for trespass over land it does not own—an issue that has divided sister trial courts. See New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Deull Fuel, No. ATL-L-1839-18 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Aug. 8, 2019) (denying motion to dismiss common law trespass claim because Public Trust Doctrine supersedes exclusivity element of trespass); New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Hess, MID-L4579-18 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Dec. 21, 2018) (granting motion to dismiss common law trespass claim because State lacked exclusive possession over the land).  The Appellate Court’s unreported opinion provides clarity that despite the State’s authority under the public trust doctrine, it cannot assert a claim for trespass in the absence of exclusive possession. Read More »

In an opinion issued on March 24, 2020, the District Court for the District of Delaware held that pre-petition environmental fines accrued by Exide Technologies were dischargeable debts in Exide’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case and that penalties that Exide accrued during the pendency of its bankruptcy case were not entitled to administrative priority. South Coast Air Quality Management District v. Exide Technologies, Civ. No. 19-891 (D. Del. March 24, 2020). The case suggests that environmental penalties assessed against a corporation, even if premised in part upon false reporting, may be dischargeable in a bankruptcy case and further, that additional penalties not based on cleanup costs during the bankruptcy will not receive special treatment by the courts. Read More »

In 2015, a pipeline in Santa Barbara County, California ruptured and leaked oil, some of which made its way to the ocean and eventually washed up on local beaches. A class of plaintiffs brought an action in federal district court against defendants Plains All American Pipeline, L.P., and Plains Pipeline L.P. (“Plains”) for claims of statutory violations, negligence, public nuisance, continuing private nuisance, nuisance per se, and trespass. In response, Plains filed a motion for summary judgment which sought to have the claims of the Property Subclass plaintiffs dismissed, primarily on the basis that the harm caused by the oil spill was a “temporary diminution in property value,” and not recoverable as a matter of law.

Last week, Judge Gutierrez of the District Court for the Central District of California issued an order denying most of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, thereby allowing the litigation to continue. See Keith Andrews et al v. Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. et al., CV 15-4113 PSG (JEMx) (Mar. 17, 2020). The court held that several of plaintiffs’ claims contained genuine issues of material fact that should be brought before a jury, and that it could not rule as a matter of law that plaintiffs had not suffered harm. The claims which merited the most analysis in the order were the common law property claims, i.e.: negligence, nuisance, and trespass. Read More »

On March 2, 2020, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a municipality was allowed to proceed with challenging the validity of certain environmental state statutes under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA). Pa. Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. Grant Twp., No. 126 M.D. 2017 (Pa. Cmwlth. Mar. 2, 2020). The question addressed, whether and if so the extent to which the validity of Pennsylvania’s environmental statutes can be challenged under the ERA, was one left open by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Pa. Envtl. Defense Found. v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017). Read More »