Some cases just make you wonder what people were thinking. I’m not sure even Donald Trump would have tried to get away with what Dico, Inc., tried to get away with.
In 1994, EPA issued an administrative order, requiring Dico to address PCBs in insulation in buildings it owned in Des Moines, Iowa. Without informing EPA, Dico sold the buildings. Dico did not inform the buyer of the buildings about either the presence of PCBs or the EPA order.
When EPA sought recovery of costs incurred in addressing the contamination resulting from the building demolition – and punitive damages for violating the order – Dico had the temerity to defend the case on the ground that it was the sale of a useful product, rather than an arrangement for disposal.
Last week, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s judgment imposing liability on Dico and awarding the United States its full costs of response and punitive damages equal to the costs of response. These are among the key findings affirmed by the Court of Appeals:
- Dico knew that the buyer would demolish the buildings.
- The buildings were no longer commercially useful.
- Dico did not advertise sale of the buildings or seek any other buyers.
- Dico had reason to believe that the buyer would not discover the contamination.
- The cost to remediate the PCBs far exceeded the purchase price.
I think that Dico got off lucky. The court could easily have imposed the full treble damages allowed under CERCLA. You do almost have to admire Dico’s unmitigated gall. You don’t see anything quite that brazen very often.