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Haddonbrook Associates v. General Electric Co.

March 13, 2009

HADDONBROOK ASSOCIATES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment as to one count of Plaintiff's four-count Complaint [Docket Item 13]. In its motion, Defendant General Electric Company ("GE") argues that Plaintiff's claim for trespass against it fails as a matter of law, because GE's entry onto Plaintiff's property was authorized by a court order. For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees with Defendant that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to Plaintiff's trespass claim, and will thus grant Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Plaintiff Haddonbrook Associates owns a parcel of land in Voorhees Township, New Jersey (the "Property"), which is adjacent to a piece of property that had previously been operated as a commercial landfill known as the Buzby Landfill (the "Landfill"). (Weisman Cert. Ex. 1 at 5, 16; Weisman Cert. Ex. 6.) In 1991, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ("NJDEP") issued a directive requiring a number of potentially responsible parties ("PRPs"), including Defendant GE and the Township of Voorhees, to investigate and remediate suspected environmental contamination in the Landfill. (Weisman Cert. Ex. 1 at ¶¶ 22-23.) Two years later, in 1993, the NJDEP and the PRPs signed an Administrative Consent Order, (Hamilton Cert. Ex. A), which required the PRPs to undertake expansive investigatory and remedial activities aimed at remediating the contamination in and around the Landfill site. Thereafter, the NJDEP and the PRPs agreed to a Remedial Investigation Work Plan (the "RIWP") in order to implement the terms of the Administrative Consent Order.

(Hamilton Cert. ¶ 5.)

Under the terms of the RIWP, the PRPs were required to investigate the impact of the Landfill contamination outside of the boundaries of the Landfill site. (Weisman Cert. Ex. 9 at 49008, 49013.) This investigation included the installation of "temporary well points and possibly groundwater monitoring wells" on six off-site locations, (id. at ¶ 2), including an installation on the Property at issue in this lawsuit. (Weisman Cert. Ex. 10 at ¶ 10.) In the fall of 1994, the PRPs, through counsel for GE, sought access to the Property in order to install the temporary well point, but Plantation Homes, Inc. ("PHI"), which owned the property at the time,*fn1 denied the PRPs access. (Weisman Cert. Ex. 11.)

The PRPs subsequently commenced a lawsuit against PHI, Joseph Samost, and Stephen Samost in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, in which they sought access to the Property pursuant to N.J.S.A. 58:10B-16. Section 58:10B-16, as the Court explains in greater detail below, authorizes "[a]ny person who undertakes the remediation of suspected or actual contamination and who requires access to conduct such remediation on real or personal property that is not owned by that person" to "seek an order from the Superior Court directing the property owner to grant reasonable access to the property." N.J.S.A. 58:10B-16(a)(1).

On December 2, 1994, the Chancery Division entered an injunctive "Order Granting Access" (the "Chancery Court Order"), which granted the PRPs' motion for injunctive relief pursuant to section 58:10B-16. (Weisman Cert. Ex. 13 at 1-2.) The Chancery Court Order provided in relevant part:

The Plaintiffs are granted temporary access along with all necessary rights of ingress and egress to Defendants' Property (Block 206, Lot 12) located in Voorhees Township, Camden County in order to:

(1) take surface water and sediment samples from a nearby stream;

(2) install a temporary well point on Block 206, Lot 12 in order to sample groundwater;

(3) install, maintain and sample a groundwater monitoring well on ...


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