The New Jersey Appellate Division has applied the doctrine of judicial estoppel to uphold the dismissal of a Spill Act contribution action on the grounds that the plaintiffs failed to seek contribution from all potentially responsible parties that were known (or reasonably knowable) in an earlier action. The court ruled that the application of judicial estoppel in the case before it was consistent with the Spill Act’s objective to cast a wide net over those responsible for hazardous substances and their discharge on the land and waters of the state. “Plaintiffs are precluded from floating a lazy cast toward one discharger and then shooting a second line toward others, seeking contribution for cleanup of the same property.” The plaintiffs in Terranova v. Gen. Elec. Pension Trust (Docket No. A-5699-16T3), owners of commercial property that had long been used as a gas station, brought this action in 2015. The defendants were owners/operators of the property from 1960 through 1980, during which time soil and groundwater at the property had allegedly been contaminated by three underground storage tanks. Of consequence to the court’s decision, the plaintiffs had previously filed an action in 2010 against two separate individuals that had operated the gas station from...
Author: Adam C. Arnold
All in the Family: N.J. Appellate Division Holds That Status of Pre-1983 Purchaser as “Innocent Party” Applied to Current Owner Despite Property Transfers Among Family Members Via Trusts
Reversing the denial of an application for an “innocent party” grant, the New Jersey Appellate Division recently held in an unpublished opinion, Cedar Knolls 2006, LLC v. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, that property transfers among family members, even through the use of trusts, are not “changes of ownership.” Thus, a corporation that acquired a parcel of land in 2006 was eligible to seek an “innocent party” grant that is available only to pre-1983 transferees because the property had remained within the same family since its original acquisition in 1977. The property at issue was originally acquired in 1977 by Robert Higginson, well before the December 31, 1983 cutoff for eligibility as an “innocent party” under New Jersey law. Upon his death 16 years later, he bequeathed the property to his wife through two 50% shares placed into separate trusts. His wife then assigned her shares in the property to two new trusts. The interests of those trusts in the property were subsequently transferred to their son, who created a new entity, Cedar Knolls 2006, LLC, to which he transferred the two 50% shares, making Cedar Knolls the sole owner of the property. Nine years later, Cedar Knolls applied for...
The Third Circuit Parts Ways with the Second Circuit When it Comes to Contribution Rights Under CERCLA
In Trinity Industries, Inc. v. Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that a party that has resolved its environmental liability only under state law may nevertheless pursue contribution from other responsible parties under the federal CERCLA statute, at least in some instances. Trinity was the owner of an industrial property from 1988 to 2000. In 2006, the State of Pennsylvania initiated an enforcement action against Trinity, which prompted the former property owner to enter a Consent Order with the State’s Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”) and Land Recycling and Environmental Remediation Standards Act (“LRA”). Under the Consent Order, Trinity agreed to fund and conduct response actions at the property, but expressly reserved its right to pursue cost recovery and contribution against other responsible parties. Subsequently, Trinity brought a contribution action against Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. (“CB&I”), also a former property owner, under § 113(f)(3)(B) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”).
New York State was among the first to enact programs aimed at remediation and redevelopment of contaminated sites. The goal of such programs is both to promote economic revitalization and to encourage private entities to remediate the state’s contaminated sites. Three such programs, the Voluntary Cleanup Program (“VCP”), the Environmental Restoration Program (ERP), and the Brownfield Cleanup Program (“BCP”), have achieved considerable success, with over 400 sites having been remediated in the past two decades. Nevertheless, policy makers continue to search for ways to make these programs better and more cost efficient. Prompted by the impending expiration of key provisions of the BCP, a report released by the New York State Comptroller’s office in April 2013, provides an assessment of these programs, as well as some options for improvement going forward.
A recent news release on the NJDEP website discusses new efforts by the Christie Administration to streamline vital rebuilding projects necessitated by the destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy. The new rules, which were adopted on an emergency basis on April 16th, are intended to eliminate some of the red tape typically associated with permit procedures, while ensuring the protection of coastal resources and encouraging the rebuilding of a more resilient New Jersey coastline. This is just the latest action taken by the Governor and NJDEP to ease the burden on residents, businesses and municipalities seeking to rebuild. Beginning as early as five days after the storm swept through New Jersey, actions were already being taken to waive permitting requirements for those rebuilding vital infrastructure such as roads and bridges. More recently, the Christie Administration adopted a streamlined process for property owners wanting to rebuild to new elevation standards in flood zones.
For the first time in more than two decades, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) has updated its Advisory Base Flood Elevation (“ABFE”) maps for New Jersey’s coastal counties. The Christie Administration adopted these new standards as an emergency measure on January 24, 2013, and through formal NJDEP regulations, has now made them permanent. The revised FEMA elevations, which remain subject to change, are anywhere from two to four feet higher on average than the standards that had been in effect prior to Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey residents, particularly those impacted by flooding from Hurricane Sandy, should be aware of this change, as the NJDEP has incorporated these revised maps as the new standard throughout the state for the elevation of reconstructed homes in flood zones.
An article published last year entitled, “NJ Charges Forward with Electric Vehicle Network,” discussed the concerted efforts of New Jersey and several other states to develop a Northeast Electric Vehicle Network and promote alternative transportation fuels. The goal of this project is to encourage economic growth, maintain the region’s leadership in the area of clean energy, and reduce the region’s dependence on oil. Toward that end, two bills were recently introduced in the New Jersey State Legislature that would provide further incentive for New Jersey drivers to make the transition to alternative energy vehicles.
In NJDEP v. Dimant, et al., the Department filed suit under New Jersey’s Spill Compensation and Control Act (the “Spill Act”), alleging that the defendant, Sue’s Clothes Hanger, Inc. (“Sue’s”), a dry cleaning business, was responsible for damages related to groundwater contamination on various properties in Bound Brook. The sole evidence supporting DEP’s claim for damages against Sue’s rested on a pipe that was found dripping perchloroethylene (PCE) onto a driveway in the late 1980s. The trial court judge ruled that the DEP had not sufficiently proved a nexus between the PCE dripping from Sue’s pipe in the 1980s and the groundwater contamination at issue. The plaintiffs appealed.