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United States of America v. Helen Kramer

December 9, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HELEN KRAMER, ET AL., DEFENDANT.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALMO ANTI-POLLUTION SERVICES CORP., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

The only remaining claims in this Superfund case are third-party claims asserted by certain settling parties against Alumax Mill Products, Inc., the lone non-settling Defendant.*fn1 The matter is before the Court on Alumax's motion for summary judgment as to these claims [Docket Item 136]. The claims are made pursuant to § 107 and § 113 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act ("CERCLA"), 42 U.S.C. § 9601,*fn2 and the analogous provisions of the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, N.J. Stat.

Ann. § 58:10-23.11f. The principal issue is whether settling parties can sue non-settling parties for contribution under § 113(f)(3)(B) of CERCLA if the settling parties have not admitted CERCLA liability.

II. BACKGROUND

In 1983, the United States declared the Helen Kramer Landfill to be a federal Superfund site and placed it on the National Priorities List, making it eligible for remediation under CERCLA. See United States v. Kramer, No. 89-4340, 2009 WL 2339341, at *1 (D.N.J. July 27, 2009) (Kramer VII).*fn3 The United States and New Jersey brought CERCLA actions against a limited number of defendants, and began the long process of cleaning up the site. Id. From 1983 to 1994, both sovereigns incurred substantial costs for their work remediating the Landfill. Id. Their CERCLA actions were consolidated into the present case. Id.

Some of the direct defendants impleaded several hundred third-party defendants, including the movant, Alumax. Id. The initial third-party complaint asserted a claim for contribution against Alumax under § 113(f)(1) of CERCLA,*fn4 a claim for declaratory relief regarding Alumax's liability for future response costs pursuant to § 113(g)(2) of CERCLA, and a contribution claim pursuant to the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 58:10-23.11f.*fn5

In 1998, the third-party plaintiffs settled the claims of both the United States and New Jersey for the past and future costs of remediating the Landfill. Kramer VII, 2009 WL 2339341 at *2. Those settlements were contained in consent decrees that were entered by the Court. Id. The Settling Work Defendants (as the third-party plaintiffs are now called) agreed to reimburse the state and federal agencies for their costs, manage the Landfill remediation, and pay for New Jersey's oversight of that work.*fn6 Id. In exchange, the Settling Work Defendants receive protection, pursuant to § 113(f)(2) of CERCLA and applicable state law, from any contribution claims being asserted against them for response costs or natural resource damages in the future. (Ricci Cert. Ex. A ¶ 12, Ex. B. ¶ 76, Ex. C ¶ 18.) Importantly, the Settling Work Defendants stated in the consent decrees that they did not admit liability under CERCLA. (Id. Ex. A. ¶ 1(L), Ex. B. ¶ 6; Ex. C ¶ 6.)

After the settlements were entered, the focus of this case shifted to the Settling Work Defendants' recovery of costs from non-settlors. Under CERCLA, there are two ways for private parties to recover costs from other parties: claims under § 107(a) and § 113(f). Section 107(a) provides that the parties covered under that section are liable for, among other costs, "any other necessary costs of response incurred by any other person consistent with the national contingency plan." § 107(a)(4)(B). Passed as part of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986, § 113(f) permits private parties to recover cleanup costs from third parties in actions for contribution. It provides in relevant part:

(1) Contribution

Any person may seek contribution from any other person who is liable or potentially liable under [§ 107(a)], during or following any civil action under [§ 106] or under [§ 107(a)].

(2) Settlement

A person who has resolved its liability to the United States or a State in an administrative or judicially approved settlement shall not be liable for claims for contribution regarding matters addressed in the settlement. Such settlement does not discharge any of the other potentially liable persons unless its terms so provide, but it reduces the potential liability of the others by the amount of the settlement.

(3) Persons not party to settlement (B) A person who has resolved its liability to the United States or a State for some or all of a response action or for some or all of the costs of such action in an administrative or judicially approved settlement may seek contribution from any person who is not party to a settlement referred to in paragraph (2). 113(f).

The proper interpretation of these provisions has been the frequent subject of litigation in the federal courts. In 2007, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Atlantic Research Corp., 551 U.S. 128, 132 (2007). The Court held, contrary to the majority of courts of appeals, that parties responsible for Superfund site pollution may bring § 107(a) claims against other responsible parties. In so holding, the Supreme Court also clarified the relationship between § 113(f) and § 107(a), noting that § 113(f) contribution ...


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