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Cities Serv. Pipe Line Co. v. United States

Citation: 14 ELR 20075
No. No. 101-82L, 4 Cl. Ct. 207/20 ERC 1350/(Ct. Cl., 12/30/1983)

The court denies plaintiff reimbursement for oil spill cleanup costs under § 311(i)(1) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act because plaintiff could have prevented the spill through diligent upkeep of its pipeline and plaintiff's use of the line was a contributing cause of the spill. Plaintiff presented evidence that its pipeline ruptured because a piece of heavy equipment had struck and weakened the line sometime within the last 10 years. The court notes that to recoup cleanup cost from the government under § 311(i), the plaintiff has the heavy burden of proving both that the spill was caused solely by one of the agencies listed in the statute and that plaintiff could not have prevented the spill by exercise of due care. The court holds that plaintiff has met neither burden. Plaintiff could foresee that dents in the high-pressure line would lead ultimately to its catastrophic failure, yet plaintiff failed to inspect or test the line adequately to detect these defects. Also, plaintiff failed to prove that a third party was the sole cause of the spill. Indeed, plaintiff's ongoing use of the line at high pressures, however innocent, was necessary to stress the line sufficiently to turn the dent into a rupture. The third party was thus not the sole cause of the spill.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Charles L. Berry, Sharon M. Mattox
Vinson & Elkins
First City Tower, Houston TX 77002
(713) 651-2222

Counsel for Defendant
Lawrence B. Liebesman, George B. Henderson; F. Henry Habicht II, Ass't Attorney General
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2455