Category Archives: Cost Recovery

The Emerging Non-Expansive View of CERCLA Liability: The Decline of Tanglewood East

The specter of environmental harm used to frighten courts and spawned a generation of decisions extending Superfund liability to virtually any party with a nexus to a site that was contaminated.   One case that signaled just how willing courts were to impose a broad view of environmental liability was the 1988 decision by the Fifth Circuit in Tanglewood East Homeowners v. Charles-Thomas, Inc..  In that […]

When Is An Arranger Not An Arranger? When It Sells Some Good Stuff Along With The Junk

As Superfund lawyers know, the Supreme Court decision in Burlington Northern required proof of an intent to dispose hazardous substances as a prerequisite to imposition of arranger liability.  While lower courts have often blissfully ignored the holdings in Supreme Court decisions under CERCLA, arranger liability seems to be one area in which the lower courts […]

CERCLA Liability For Relocation of Hazardous Waste — Is There Any Limit?

Just as tortfeasors take their victims as they find them, s0 PRPs take their hazardous waste sites as they find them.   This rule has been around since the beginning of CERCLA and means that a party which arranges for the disposal of its waste at one location can be generally be held responsible for whatever response costs that […]

Superfund Liability for the Repair of a Useful Product

A few months ago, I blogged on the decision in Duke Energy Progress Inc. v. Alcan Aluminum Corporation where a court held that a company would not be held liable for selling used transformers to a recycling facility for refurbishing and eventual resale to a new user.   At the center of that holding was the notion that the […]

What Response Costs Are Necessary Under CERCLA

In a post last year, I discussed what I I thought was the dubious dismissal of  a CERCLA cost recovery action in Stratford Holding, LLC v. Fog Cap Retail Investors LLC.   That case involved a holding that the costs of  investigating the presence of solvents in the groundwater above regulatory standards were not   “necessary” response costs because the the state had declined […]

CERCLA’s Act of War Defense — Potential Collateral Damage

For the first time in CERCLA’s history, a court has concluded that a Superfund claim was barred by the “act of war” defense.  In that case, In Re September 11 Litigation, the judge ruled that a property owner a block from Ground Zero could not recover the costs of cleaning up dust on his building from the collapse of the […]

CERCLA Cost Recovery or Contribution Claim: Another Judicial Misstep

The chaos unleashed by Aviall continues in a recent decision by the Seventh Circuit.  In Bernstein v. Blankert, the Seventh Circuit revisited the issue whether a party having entered into an Administrative Order by Consent had a claim against other PRPs for cost recovery under Section 107(a) or for contribution under Section 113(f)(1).   Offering a novel and entirely misguided conclusion, the court found that […]

Is CERCLA More Reasonable Than the Common Law? Only in California, I Hope

In Burlington Northern, the Supreme Court made clear that, in order to impose liability on a defendant as an “arranger” under Superfund for the sale of a product, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant must have entered into the sale of [the product] with the intention that at least a portion of the product […]

Is There A De Minimis Defense To Liability in Superfund? The Supreme Court Indicated There Was; One District Court Says No.

Burlington Northern squarely decided that where environmental harm is divisible, an individual PRP can obtain apportionment of its liability and be assigned a specific percentage share; in such instances, there will be no joint and several liability.  The possibility follows from Burlington Northern that a PRP which can establish divisibility of harm might be able to show that its percentage share of […]

Winning the Superfund Remedy Fight in Court: Don’t Count On It

Remedy decisions are almost always won or lost at the agency level.  Once the ROD issues, a PRP’s chance of having the selected remedy overturned in court is slim to none – a point that was driven home in a recent decision in the Lower Fox River case. There, the government had engaged in a decade-long remedy […]

Aviall’s Continuing Impact on PRP Settlements in Superfund

Over a decade after it was issued, Aviall continues to cause difficulties for private settling parties in CERCLA.  In Lewis v. Russell, a federal district court recently considered whether a PRP which agreed to a cash payment from another PRP has to reduce his claim against other PRPs by the actual amount of the cash payment or by the proportionate […]

EPA Issues Two New Superfund Guidance Documents: Plus Ca Change, Plus C’est La Meme Chose

EPA recently released two guidance documents relevant to Superfund practitioners.  One establishes revised procedures regarding how EPA will manage negotiations with PRPs.  The second updates EPA’s guidance on how it will handle Alternative Sites. To me, both have the flavor of deck chair management on the Titanic. The RD/RA negotiation guidance has to be seen to be believed. It’s a document […]

Selling Water-Based Superfund Liabilities – A Toxic Brew

In a poignant moment in Godfather III, Al Pacino’s character says: “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in”. EPA’s recent eye-popping announcement of a $366 million encore settlement by AVX with respect to the New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site re-enacts that moment, graphically illustrating the toxic combination of EPA’s sorry […]

The Case For a Broad Pre-Emption Rule for CERCLA Contribution

Although some of the proposed tax plans and budgets being discussed in this election year suggest that the same dollar can be counted and spent multiple times, a growing number of courts have held that CERCLA response costs can only be allocated once. The most recent holding comes in the Lower Fox River litigation where […]

More Evidence That the Government No Longer Automatically Wins Superfund Cases: New Jersey Requires Proof of a Nexus Between a Discharge and Response Costs

As I have previously noted, government attorneys’ traditional approach to litigating Superfund cases has been to announce that they represent the government and that they therefore win. There was hope, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Burlington Northern, that those days were nearing an end. It is clear to me, following too many cases after […]

CERCLA and Original Sin – Who Has to Pay for Other People’s Contamination

In an environmental dispute between innocents involving a Church and a downgradient property owner, a federal court recently found the Church, although without original sin, was less innocent and should bear all the costs of the cleanup, even the costs of cleaning up an independent source of contamination on the downgradient property. In Alprof Realty […]

CERCLA Investigations That Really Are At Risk

Site owners who conduct environmental investigations of potential releases of hazardous substances in the expectation that they will be able to recover their costs from the party whose operations gave rise to that threatened release may be surprised by the outcome in a recent federal district case in Georgia, Stratford Holding, LLC v. Fog Cap […]

The Dismal History of Superfund’s Water Body Sites

An article in the New York Times earlier this week reported on EPA’s attempts under the Superfund program to address contamination in water bodies, such as rivers, lakes and harbors. Although the article acknowledges that these water body sites are technically challenging, it does not remotely capture the tortured regulatory history of these sites or […]

CERCLA Apportionment: Volume Isn’t Always King

PRPs hoping that the Supreme Court in Burlington Northern had established that volume could always be used as a basis for apportioning CERCLA liability will be disappointed by a recent Seventh Circuit opinion.  Affirming the trial court’s apportionment decision in the Lower Fox River case on which I blogged earlier, the Seventh Circuit distinguished Burlington […]

Apportionment in CERCLA — No Bright Line Test

The Lower Fox River Superfund site continues to pump out decisions on key CERCLA issues. Most recently, the federal court in Wisconsin in US v. NCR Corp. took on the issue of divisibility of harm in granting a preliminary injunction requiring one of the PRPs, NCR, to complete the removal of 660,000 cubic yards of […]

Third Time May Be The Charm in the Lower Fox River PCB Superfund Matter

It’s always satisfying to find an open-minded judge who is willing to change his decision when he is shown to be wrong, but Judge Greisbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin may be crossing the line from open-mindedness into a chronic inability to make up his mind. In the past 9 months, Judge Greisbach has […]

CERCLA’s Easily Confused Statutes of Limitations

Deciding statute of limitations issues in CERCLA cases is not always a straightforward matter as the recent 54 page opinion in American Premier Underwriters Inc. v. General Electric Company illustrates.   There, a federal court in Ohio was faced with the unenviable task of trying to determine whether remedial actions and removal actions at four separate […]

Post Aviall Settlement Jurisprudence — Back to the Future

Over the first two decades of CERCLA, the rule gradually emerged that parties which settled their liability were restricted to contribution claims under Section 113(f)(1) and would be entitled to contribution protection under Section 113(f)(c)(2). Moreover, in order to ensure the effectiveness of that settlement scheme, courts routinely ruled that claims against settling parties were […]

The Unstated Liability Rule For the Sale Of Usable Wastes

Arguments about liability for the sale of “usable wastes” are as old as Superfund. The fact patterns involving the sale of usable wastes can be varied; however, the cases seem to be governed by the following simple but never explicitly stated rule: a party will be held liable if it sells a waste that cannot […]

Obama Budget Would Cut Superfund by 6%: How About A New Approach?

According to a report in yesterday’s Greenwire, President Obama’s proposed budget would reduce Superfund spending by 6%, from $565 million to $532 million. I still don’t understand why Obama, particularly with Cass Sunstein still at OMB, hasn’t turned this problem into an opportunity. I know I’ve flogged this one before, but a significant part of the explanation […]

Rethinking Successor Liability under CERCLA

The PCB contamination in the Lower Fox River in Wisconsin continues to spawn novel Superfund decisions. The latest is US v. NCR, in which Judge Greisbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin reversed his initial ruling, made less than six months ago, that the United States could not establish successor liability under CERCLA against Appleton […]

Hurray! A District Court Actually Follows Burlington Northern

Recently, I expressed concern that District Courts, which traditionally have never seen a CERCLA plaintiff they didn’t like, would ignore the Supreme Court’s Burlington Northern decision – at least until there is another Supreme Court decision affirming that Supremes really meant the two-part holding in Burlington Northern: (1) divisibility isn’t that hard and (2) parties aren’t […]

Cutting Through the Gordian Knot of Allocation: If You Were Bad, You Lose

In late 2009, Judge Griesbach ruled, in Appleton Papers v. George A. Whiting Paper, that parties who were significantly more “blameworthy” than others were not entitled to contribution from the less blameworthy parties. Last week, Judge Griesbach ruled on the cross-contribution motions from the defendants.  The defendants took a simple view. If the plaintiffs are not entitled […]

A Man’s Home (Or Mall Or Other Business) May Be His Castle — But He Still Has to Provide Access When Contamination Is At Issue

Two recent decision illustrate that PRPs do hold some cards in hazardous waste litigation, particularly if they are willing to be aggressive in investigating the contamination. Both cases demonstrate that “victims” or bystanders can face serious consequences if they do not cooperate with the investigation. In Carlson v. Ameren Corporation, the plaintiffs had purchased a former […]

Pre-Thanksgiving Superfund Rant

As the holiday approaches, I am particularly thankful that I am not counsel to the Washington State DOT in United States v. Washington State DOT, a case that continues to make me want to take EPA, DOJ, and United States District Judge Robert Bryan by the neck and ask them what the heck are they […]

New Arsenic MCL in the Works? Will I Be Dead Before Any of My Sites are Clean?

As Superfund practitioners know, federal NPL sites are generally settled on the basis that the PRPs will first attain interim cleanup levels, though final cleanup levels are not determined until EPA is actually ready to issue its certification of completion of the remedy. Moreover, EPA insists that, should any ARARs change during the course of the […]

Yes, Virginia, You Can Estop the Government

One of the first lessons I learned as a summer associate, more years ago than I care to remember, is that the probability of a successful estoppel claim against the government is approximately the same as the probability that there is a Santa Claus. After the recent decision from the District of New Jersey in FMC […]

The Delusion of Finality in CERCLA

My partner Robby Sanoff blogged last week about the “Illusion of Finality in CERCLA.” His post addressed City of Emeryville v. Sherwin-Williams, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a person who was not a party to a prior settlement could bring a contribution claim against such a settling party, at least where […]

Illusion of Finality in CERCLA

In City of Emeryville v. The Sherwin-Williams Company, the Ninth Circuit recently underscored that CERCLA settlements can be a risky business that don’t always produce finality, particularly when neither the United States nor a state is a party.  The Ninth Circuit decision grew out of a federal court action by the City of Emeryville involving […]

The Deck is Still Stacked in the Government’s Favor — Is This A Good Thing?

Last week, in City of Pittsfield v. EPA, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed denial of a petition by the City of Pittsfield seeking review of an NPDES permit issued by EPA. The case makes no new law and, by itself, is not particularly remarkable.  Cases on NPDES permit appeals have held for some time […]

Is CERCLA The Most Poorly Drafted Statute In The History Of Congress?

There are only two permissible answers to this question: Yes I don’t know. I was reminded of this reality in reading the decision issued earlier this month in Solutia v. McWane, in which Chief Magistrate Judge Greene of the Northern District of Alabama held that a party which incurs response costs pursuant to a consent […]

A Combined Superfund and Stormwater Rant

Sometimes, the practice of environmental law just takes my breath away. A decision issued earlier last month in United States v. Washington DOT was about as stunning as it gets. Ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, Judge Robert Bryan held that the Washington State Department of Transportation had “arranged” for the disposal of hazardous substances within the […]

CERCLA – Still – Remains Constitutional

Last year, I analogized PRP efforts to have CERCLA’s unilateral administrative order provisions declared unconstitutional to Chevy Chase’s repeated announcements during the first year of Saturday Night Live that Francisco Franco was still dead. Eventually, that joke wore out. With yesterday’s decision by the D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in General Electric v. Jackson, upholding EPA’s […]

Life is Unfair: CERCLA Jurisprudence Department

When the Burlington Northern decision was first announced, I concluded that “never has the Supreme Court done so much by doing so little.” On May 5, Judge John Mendez, of he Eastern District of California, proved me at least half right. In United States v. Iron Mountain Mines, joint and several liability was imposed on the defendants […]

Making Sense of Superfund: The Third Circuit Gives a Lesson to the Supreme Court

One of the outstanding questions following the Supreme Court decisions in Aviall and Atlantic Research was whether a party which had entered into a consent decree with the United States and incurred direct response costs as a result could bring an action for cost recovery under § 107 of CERCLA or whether such a settling party […]

Superfund Contribution Actions: Bad Guys Need Not Apply

Last week, Judge William Griesbach, of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, issued an important Superfund contribution decision, which shows just how much equitable discretion judges have in resolving contribution claims. In

Superfund Liability: Owner? Operator? Property Manager?

In an interesting decision issued a few weeks ago, a District Court in Georgia held that a property manager at a strip mall could not be held liable as an owner of a facility under CERCLA. However, the court held that the property manager could be liable as an operator of the facility. I don’t think that […]

EPA Issues a New Policy on Superfund Negotiations: Time For Another Rant?

Late last week, Elliott Gilberg, Acting Director of EPA’s Office of Site Remediation Enforcement (OSRE) issued an Interim Policy on Managing the Duration of Remedial Design/Remedial Action Negotiations. Members of the regulated community may not be surprised by the contents of the memo, but they certainly will not be pleased. In brief, the memorandum fundamentally makes two […]

Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Under RCRA — I Know It When I See It

Justice Potter Stewart famously said, with respect to obscenity, that “I know it when I see it.” I fear that the test for what constitutes an imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA is no clearer than Justice Stewart’s subjective test regarding obscenity. This week, in a decision that is good news for RCRA defendants, Judge Illlston, […]

Burlington Northern: EPA Speaks

For those of you who cannot get enough of Superfund, I spoke at a Boston Bar Association panel on this subject yesterday about the implications of the Supreme Court’s Burlington Northern decision. Thanks to EPA Region I and Joanna Jerison, head of the Region I Superfund Legal Office, for being willing to speak on so obviously […]

An Additional Note on Burlington Northern: More Litigation in Your Future?

One more note on the Burlington Northern decision.  A client of mine has already noted that one impact of the decision will be to result in more litigation over divisibility, which will be good for private lawyers (ouch!).  She’s right, as my clients always are, but she shouldn’t be. Litigation should only increase if EPA […]

A Rant Against Superfund

As some of my clients know all too well, I’ve been spending a lot of time on some Superfund matters recently. Although I can’t remember a period when I didn’t have at least one moderately active Superfund case, significant immersion in complex remedial decision-making and negotiations provides an unwelcome reminder just how flawed CERCLA is. Almost 20 […]

Life After Atlantic Research: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals Holds that Response Costs Incurred Pursuant to a Consent Decree Are Recoverable Under Section 107 Of CERCLA

For those following developments in Superfund cost recovery and contribution case law after the Atlantic Research decision, it seemed worth noting that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently held, in W.R. Grace & Co. – Conn. v. Zotos International, Inc., that a party who incurs response costs pursuant to a state consent order has […]

Say It Loud, Say It Clear; The Inside of a Building Is NOT the Environment

In a recent decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that neither CERCLA nor RCRA provide convenient ways for the buyer of a building containing asbestos to finance the abatement of that asbestos. In Sycamore Industrial Park Associates v. Ericsson, the seller of the building replaced the old heating equipment shortly prior to sale, […]