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Acushnet Co. v. Mohasco Corp.

Citation: 30 ELR 20071
No. No. 97-2138, 191 F.3d 69/49 ERC 1136/(1st Cir., 09/15/1999) aff'd

The court affirms, but on different grounds, a district court decision dismissing corporations' contribution claim under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) against several potentially responsible parties (PRPs) for response costs incurred at the Sullivan's Ledge site in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The district court, which granted summary judgment to one of the PRPs before trial and entered judgment as a mater of law for the remaining PRPs at the close of the corporations' case-in-chief, ruled principally that the PRPs deposited so little waste at the site that it could not be reasonably said that they caused the corporations to incur response costs.

The court first holds that the district court was mistaken in holding that some minimal quantity of hazardous waste must be involved before a defendant may be held to have "caused" the expenditure of response costs. The court has strong reservations about interpreting CERCLA's causation element to require that a defendant be responsible for a minimum quantity of hazardous waste before liability may be imposed. Nevertheless, the court next holds that a defendant may avoid joint and several liability for response costs in a contribution action under CERCLA § 313(f) if it demonstrates that its share of hazardous waste deposited at the site constitutes no more than background amounts of such substances in the environment and cannot concentrate with other wastes to produce higher amounts. This rule is not based on CERCLA's causation requirement, but is logically derived from CERCLA § 313(f)'s express authorization that the court take equity into account when fixing each defendant's fair share of response costs.

The court next holds that the district court properly granted summary judgment to the first PRP. The PRP offered evidence tending to show that its equitable share would amount to zero, and the corporations failed to rebut this evidence. The court then holds that the district court properly entered judgment for the remaining PRPs on the basis that the evidence was inadequate to permit a rational fact finder to make a quantifiable allocation of response costs against the PRPs under CERCLA § 313(f). Last, the court finds no abuse of discretion in the district court's failure to make more detailed findings or to hold a separate allocation hearing. Nothing in the record suggests that the corporations complained about the unified nature of the § 313(f) proceedings, and had they truly felt hampered by the structure of the trial, they should have interposed a timely objection.

[Prior decisions in this litigation are published at 27 ELR 20311 and 20652, and 28 ELR 20367.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Stephen J. Brake
Nutter, McClennen & Fish
One International Pl., Boston MA 02110
(617) 439-2000

Counsel for Defendants
George W. House
Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard
2000 Renaissance Plaza
230 N. Elm St., Greensboro NC 27401
(336) 373-8850

Before Cyr and O'Toole,* JJ.