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Showing 63 posts in Contamination.

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 »

Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held in two separate cases that the Clean Water Act does not extend liability to pollution that reaches navigable waters via groundwater. Kentucky Waterways All. v. Kentucky Utilities Co., No. 18-5115, 2018 WL 4559315, (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018); Tennessee Clean Water Network v. Tennessee Valley Auth., No. 17-6155, 2018 WL 4559103 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018). Instead, the court adopted the bright line rule that for a point source discharge to be actionable under the CWA, it must “dump directly into” navigable waters. The decisions departed from the Fourth and Ninth Circuits’ rulings earlier this year, which held that a “direct hydrological connection” between a discharge and waterbody was sufficient for CWA liability. Our prior blog post on the Fourth Circuit’s decision, Upstate Forever et al. v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP et al., No. 17-1640, 2018 WL 1748154 (4th Cir. April 12, 2018) can be found here. Read 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 »

Reminding all Superfund practitioners that while the application of allocation principles and factors may be flexible it is not without boundaries, on September 11, 2018, the Third Circuit filed an opinion vacating and remanding a District Court’s equitable allocation of cleanup costs because the lower court’s methodology resulted in an allocation that was too “speculative.” Trinity Indus., Inc. v. Greenlease Holding Co., No. 16-1994, 2018 WL 4324261, at *12 (3d Cir. Sept. 11, 2018).  The Court pointed to two "mathematical" errors in the District Court’s analysis, and noted that although courts do not have to be perfectly precise in their calculations, they must be able to demonstrate a solid mathematical foundation for arriving at their final number. The ruling also offered guidance for the lower court on an appropriate methodology and application of certain equitable factors. This guidance could prove helpful for other practitioners in this area of the law regarding what the Third Circuit would deem non-speculative, and therefore acceptable. Read More »

The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution preserves the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which shields state governments and their agencies from federal litigation that seeks money damages or equitable relief.  In general, a state government can only be sued if sovereign immunity is expressly waived by statute.  For example, nearly every state and the federal government have enacted a “torts claims act” that abrogates sovereign immunity for certain claims based on the negligence of government employees, and states that accept federal funding are also not immune from federal discrimination suits.  Where no waiver exists, the doctrine of sovereign immunity is broad and provides a shield to environmental suits, including claims under the federal Comprehensive, Environmental, Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), as the Fifth Circuit recently affirmed in United States Oil Recovery Site Potentially Responsible Parties Group v. Railroad Comm’n of Texas, et al., Dkt. No. 17-20361, __ F. 3d __, (5th Cir., Aug. 1, 2018).  Read More »

Rule 23(c)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, “[w]hen appropriate, an action may be brought or maintained as a class action with respect to particular issues.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c)(4). Rule 23(b)(3), on the other hand, provides that a class action may be maintained only where “the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.” R. 23(b)(3). The Second, Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuit have adopted a “broad view” of class certification, permitting a district court to certify a class on particular issues under Federal Rule 23(c)(4), even where the traditional predominance requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) have not been met for the case as a whole. Only two circuits, the Fifth and Eleventh, ascribe to the more “narrow view” in which Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement is applied to prevent district courts from certifying particular issues under Rule 23(c)(4), without certifying an entire claim. In a recent case brought my homeowners alleging contamination to groundwater, Martin v. Behr Dayton Thermal Products LLC et al., No. 17-3663, --- F.3d ---, 2018 WL 3421711 (6th Cir. July 18, 2018), the Sixth Circuit has now joined the majority of circuits addressing this issue by endorsing the “broad view” of issue-based class certification. 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 »

Last month, in U.S. v. CITGO Petro. Corp., 711 Fed. Appx. 237 (5th Cir. 2017), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed an $81 million civil penalty assessment under the federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) against CITGO Petroleum Corp. (“CITGO”), for unpermitted wastewater discharges from its plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana when a severe rainstorm caused two storage tanks to fail and over 2 million gallons of oil to be discharged into local waterways.  In the underlying case before the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, CITGO conceded liability, and therefore, the only issue for trial was the total penalty to be assessed.  After a two-week bench trial, the District Court determined that CITGO had failed to properly maintain its wastewater storage tanks and allowed sludge and waste oil to accumulate in the tanks, which lessened their total storage capacity and ability to withstand a storm surge.  The District Court ultimately assessed a $6 million civil penalty against CITGO, which EPA appealed.  Read More »

A group of private landowners ended of 2017 with a Montana Supreme Court ruling, in Atlantic Richfield Company v. Montana Second Judicial District Court, that they could proceed with their state law claims for restoration damages against the owner of a site contaminated by a former copper smelter. No. 16-0555, 2017 WL 6629410 (Mont. December 29, 2017). In a split decision, the Court found that the landowners’ claims for restoration damages were not preempted by the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) because the claims did not constitute a challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s established cleanup plan for the Site. Read More »

In a decision issued earlier this month, Judge Wolfson of the District of New Jersey held that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) could recover primary restoration natural resource damages from a responsible party as long as NJDEP demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that its proposed primary restoration plan is “practicable.” New Jersey Dep’t of Envtl. Prot. v. Amerada Hess Corp., No. 15-6468 (FLW)(LHG) (D.N.J. Nov. 1, 2017).  In so holding, Judge Wolfson rejected an argument by the defendants, including Exxon Mobil Corporation and ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (“Defendants”), that primary restoration natural resource damages were available only upon a showing of “an injury or threat to human health, flora, or fauna.”  The court found that such a standard, which was derived by Defendants from unpublished, non-controlling authority from New Jersey state courts, was inconsistent with the plain language of the Spill Act that speaks directly in terms of “practicability.” Read More »