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Cooper Biomedical, Inc. v. Worthington Biochemical

July 22, 2009

COOPER BIOMEDICAL, INC., COOPER DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, INC., COOPER DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, COOPER TECHNICON, TECHNICON INSTRUMENTS CORP., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS/ CROSS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
WORTHINGTON BIOCHEMICAL, INC., VON WORTHINGTON AND NANCY WORTHINGTON, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS/CROSS-APPELLANTS, AND IVC INDUSTRIES, INC.*FN1 AND AMERICAN VITAMIN PRODUCTS, INC., DEFENDANTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, L-5527-01.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued March 11, 2009

Before Judges Stern, Payne and Waugh.

Plaintiffs, Cooper Biomedical, Inc., Cooper Development Company, Inc., Cooper Development Corporation, Cooper Technicon, and Technicon Instruments Corp,*fn2 appeal from a trial court order, following a bench trial, dismissing as unproven plaintiffs' claim against defendants Worthington Biochemical and its principals, Von and Nancy Worthington, of a right to contribution for the cost of environmental clean-up of trichloroethylene (TCE), pursuant to the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11 to -23.11z.

On appeal, plaintiffs make the following legal arguments:

I. UNDISPUTED EVIDENCE ESTABLISHED THAT WORTHINGTON POSSESSED, USED, SPILLED, AND DISCHARGED TCE AT THE SITE

A. Worthington Was "Responsible" For discharges Of TCE And, Thus, Strictly Liable For Contamination At The Site.

B. Worthington Discharged TCE At The Site.

C. Worthington Actively Used TCE Throughout Its Tenancy From 1987 Through 1997.

D. Worthington Had No TCE Inventory Records.

II. THE EXPERT EVIDENCE ESTABLISHED THAT WORTHINGTON'S DISCHARGES CAUSED CONTAMINATION AT THE SITE

A. Additional Studies Conducted By Environmental Consultants Prove That The Contamination At MW-10 Was The Result Of Worthington's TCE Spills.

B. The Trial Court Had No Basis For Disregarding The Computer Modeling Evidence In The Record.

C. The Trial Court Improperly Ignored The Substantial New Testing and Data.

D. Worthington's Expert Evidence Was Largely Unsupported.

III. THE TRIAL COURT'S NUMEROUS ERRORS RESULTED IN A MANIFEST DENIAL OF JUSTICE

Defendants cross appeal, arguing that the trial judge erred when she declined to award attorneys fees to them pursuant to the lease between Cooper Technicon and Worthington Biochemical. Following a thorough review of the record, we affirm.

I.

We preface our opinion by noting the limited scope of our review of plaintiffs' contentions, as established by the Court in Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 483-84 (1974):

[O]ur courts have held that the findings on which it [the judgment] is based should not be disturbed unless "* * * they are so wholly insupportable as to result in a denial of justice," and that the appellate court should exercise its original fact finding jurisdiction sparingly and in none but a clear case where there is no doubt about the matter. Greenfield v. Dusseault, 60 N.J. Super. 436, 444 (App. Div. 1960), aff'd o.b. 33 N.J. 78 (1960). That the finding reviewed is based on factual determinations in which matters of credibility are involved is not without significance. Brundage v. New Jersey Zinc Co., 48 N.J. 450 (1967). Findings by the trial judge are considered binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence. New Jersey Turnpike Authority v. Sisselman, 106 N.J. Super. 358 (App. Div. 1969), certif. denied, 54 N.J. 565 (1969). It has otherwise been stated that "our appellate function is a limited one: we do not disturb the factual findings and legal conclusions of the trial judge unless we are convinced that they are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice," ...


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