NJ Federal District Court dismisses CERCLA Section 113 and private nuisance claim by subsequent property owner that conducted voluntary cleanup.
SteveK September 2nd, 2011
On August 13, 2011, the Federal District Court for the District of New Jersey continued to clarify the limits of Section 113 claims under CERCLA and also addressed common law claims of a subsequent property owner in Queens West Development Corporation v. Honeywell International, Inc. Plaintiff acquired property formerly operated by Warren Chemical Works, which was subsequently acquired by Honeywell. The property was contaminated from discharges of substantial amounts of creosote, coal tar, and related substances. The property was to be redeveloped by plaintiff for residential, commercial and recreational uses. Plaintiff claimed to have incurred over $16 million in investigation and remediation costs, and anticipated total response costs that would be equal to or exceed $20 million. Defendant moved for dismissal of various counts of the complaint including claims in Count Two of the Complaint, under Section 113 of CERCLA, claims in Count Three for common law private nuisance, and claims in Count Four for restitution. In deciding the case, the Court addressed the intersection between claims under ‘ 107 of CERCLA and Section 113. The Court noted that the case presented a unique issue: “whether a party that voluntarily undertakes a cleanup action can maintain a claim for contribution under § 113(f)(3)(B), when it has simultaneously asserted a claim for cost recovery under § 107(a).” The Court noted that courts have explained that Section 107 “authorizes the United States, a state, or `any other person’ to seek reimbursement for all removal or remedial costs associated with the hazardous materials on the property, provided that those actions are consistent with the National Contingency Plan, and that the United States Supreme Court held in Atlantic Research that the “plain language” of § 107 “authorizes cost-recovery action by any private party, including PRPs.” As a result, a private party is not required to establish its own liability in order to assert a claim under Section 107. Section 113(f)(3)(B), however, allows the assertion of a right of contribution only “to PRPs that have settled their CERCLA liability with a [S]tate or the United States through either an administrative or judicially approved settlement.” Since Plaintiff had voluntarily incurred the response costs, is not a PRP, and did not enter into an approved settlement or resolved all their liability to the U.S. or the State of New York, they could not maintain the Section 113 claim. Thus, the Court dismissed the Section 113 claim contained in the Second Count.
The Court next addressed the claims for private nuisance. As the proceeding was in New Jersey, but involved New York property, the Court considered the law of private nuisance in both jurisdictions. The Court concluded that the law was the same, and that although a private nuisance “consists of an interference with one’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of land” it only applies to interference with use of adjoining land, not to subsequent owners of the same property.
Finally, the Court refused to dismiss the restitution claim. Defendants argued that it should be dismissed since it is preempted by CERCLA. The Court refused to dismiss the claim, however, since it remained an alternative common law claim that would survive if the Plaintiff fails to prove the claim under Section 107 of CERCLA.
DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum, PC (www.dbnjlaw.com ) is a full service law firm in New Jersey which provides a broad range of legal services, including the representation of clients in environmental and defense of toxic exposure matters. For additional information about the matters in this bulletin or in the firm’s environmental practice, please contactSteven A. Kunzman, Esq. who heads our Environmental and Latent Injury Litigation Department.