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Showing 22 posts in Case Update.

In an opinion and order released last week, the MDL court in In re Gold King Mine Release denied response contractors’ motions to dismiss. No. 1:18-md-02824-WJ, 2019 WL 1282997 (D. N.M. March 20, 2019) (slip opn.). The 2015 Gold King Mine release sent over three million gallons of contaminated wastewater into rivers in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. In the wake of the spill, the State of New Mexico, the State of Utah, the Navajo Nation, and multiple individual plaintiffs filed suit against the mine’s owner, the federal government, EPA, and EPA response contractors, Weston Solutions, Inc. and Environmental Restoration, LLCC (the “Response Contractors”). The court’s opinion, which allows the majority of plaintiffs’ CERCLA and tort claims to move forward, comes on the heels of a similar order denying the Federal Government’s motions to dismiss. See In re Gold King Mine Release, No. 1:18-md-02824-WJ, 2019 WL 999016 (D. N.M. Feb. 28, 2019) (slip opn.). Our blog post discussing that earlier opinion and order can be found here.    Read More »

Last week the Third Circuit held that the owner of a remediated site could be liable under CERCLA § 107(a) for environmental response costs incurred before it acquired the property. Pa. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot. v. Trainer Custom Chem., LLC., __ F.3d __, No. 17-2607, 2018 WL 4844077 (3d Cir. 2018). In its opinion reversing the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in advance of trial, the court concluded that “all costs” in § 107(a)(4)(A) means an owner is “indeed liable for all response costs, whether incurred before or after acquiring the property.” Id. at *5. Our blog post discussing the district court’s decision, 204 F. Supp. 3d 814 (E.D. Pa. 2016), can be found hereRead More »

In the latest development in parallel cases captioned EQT Prod. Co. v. Department of Environmental Protection which have been moving through Pennsylvania state courts and the Environmental Hearing Board ("EHB") since early 2014, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the EHB’s assessment of penalties totaling $1,137,295.76 against the hydraulic fracturing company, EQT Production Company (“EQT”), for contamination to groundwater arising from a leaking wastewater impoundment. EQT Prod. Co. v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., No. 844 C.D. 2017, 2018 WL 4289310 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Sept. 10, 2018). Specifically, on September 10, 2018, the Commonwealth Court held that the EHB did not commit an error of law when it held that, under Clean Streams Law (“CSL”), penalties could be assessed for every day that contamination entered the groundwater from soils “through fundamental hydrologic principles,” even if the initial spill event had ceased and there was no direct evidence of daily transmission of contamination from soil to groundwater. Read More »

Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated opinion in EQT Prod. Co. v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., No. 6 MAP 2017, 2018 WL 1516385, (Pa. Mar. 28, 2018), holding that the Clean Streams Law (“CSL”) does not authorize the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) to impose daily penalties for the ongoing, continuing presence of pollutants in waters of the Commonwealth. In the 5-to-2 decision, which affirmed in part the Commonwealth Court’s preceding opinion, the Court ruled that to construe the language of the CSL as allowing penalties for the movement of pollutants from one water body to another (DEP’s “water-to-water” theory) was not only unsupported by the statutory language, but would also expose the regulated community to potentially massive civil penalties, and as such, DEP’s penalty calculations including penalties for the days the pollutants remained in the affected groundwater after the initial discharge were excessive. Read More »

A bit over two years ago, we reported here on the district court decision in TDY Holdings v. United States, 122 F. Supp. 3d 998  (S.D. Cal. 2015), in which the court allocated 0% liability to the United States, despite the fact that it was an undisputed PRP at the site.  The decision was surprising at the time and, as with many surprising decisions, it did not survive on appeal as earlier this month the Ninth Circuit held in TDY Holdings v. United States, No. 15-56483, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 19371 (9th Cir. Oct. 4, 2017), that TDY, a military contractor, was not solely responsible for remediation costs incurred at a former aeronautical manufacturing plant and thus remanded the matter back to the lower court to take another pass at allocating liability among the two parties.  The Ninth Circuit’s opinion thus allows military contractors seeking contribution from the government for remediation costs incurred at former defense sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to breathe a long sigh of relief. Read More »

The federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), better known as Superfund, provides private parties with two types of claims to recover costs associated with investigating and remediating contaminated sites – a cost recovery claim under CERCLA Section 107(a), 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a), and a contribution claim under Section 113(f), 42 U.S.C. § 9613(f).  A party has a claim for contribution under CERCLA Section 113(f)(3)(B) if that party has “resolved its liability to the United States or a State for some or all of a response action or for some or all of the costs of such action in an administrative or judicially approved settlement.”  A party can therefore settle its liability for a contaminated site with the EPA or a state government, and then seek to recover a portion of the costs of that settlement from other potentially responsible parties who contributed to the contamination at the site.  But, CERCLA imposes a 3-year statute of limitations on Section 113 contribution actions, which begins to run from the date of entry of the administrative or judicially approved settlement.  While at first, this may appear to be a cut-and-dry statute of limitations, there is ample case law exploring the nuances of what it means for a party to have “resolved” its liability with the government such that the 3-year statute of limitations begins to run.  Last month, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit added to that growing body of case law, in Asarco, LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 866 F.3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2017). Read More »

Earlier this week, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Spill Act contribution claims against the State of New Jersey for events prior to April 1, 1977 – the date the statute was enacted – are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.  This ruling places the State on an unequal footing with private parties for historic environmental liability under the Spill Act, and in effect, creates an automatic orphan share for pre-1977 sites where the State would otherwise have liability.  Read More »

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 »

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 »

In 2014, we covered the United States Supreme Court’s decision in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger et al., 134 S. Ct. 2175 (June 9, 2014).  In Waldburger, the Court overturned a decision by the Fourth Circuit, and held that while CERCLA preempts state statutes of limitations in toxic tort personal injury and property damage actions, it does not preempt state statutes of repose, like the North Carolina statute of repose at issue, from barring similar actions.    Last week, in Stahle v. CTS Corp., No. 15-1001 (March 2, 2016), the Fourth Circuit addressed an even more basic question, whether the statute of repose at issue in Waldburger is even applicable in such cases.  Read More »