Alpine Forrest Partners v. Crown Cent. Petroleum Corp.
Citation: 28 ELR 20543
No. 95-1871, 134 F.3d 362/46 ERC 1251/(4th Cir., 02/06/1998)
The court affirms a jury verdict in favor of defendants, a gas station and an environmental consulting group, in a suit alleging property damage from a trespassing and leaking underground gasoline storage tank the consultants failed to discover. The consulting group was hired to perform an environmental survey of a mobile home park by a company that purchases and operates mobile home parks. Full payment was tendered to the consulting group by plaintiff, a limited partnership newly formed by the hiring company to hold title to the mobile home park. A few days after the purchase of the mobile home park, the limited partnership learned that the fence of a neighboring gas station, some underground storage tanks, and some contaminated ground encroached on the mobile home park's property. The gas station asserted that it owned by adverse possession the land on which the encroachments stood. The court first holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the consulting group's motion to consolidate the suits filed against the gas station and the consulting group for trial.
The court next holds that there is substantial evidence to support the verdict on the negligence per se claim in favor of the gas station. There was evidence from which the jury could find that the discharge had completely ended before the purchase of the mobile home park. There was no evidence presented of diminished rental value, of other current expenses to the mobile home park owner, or of a permanent diminution in value that would outlast remediation of the leak. In addition, the jury could have found that the diminution was no diminution at all. The jury also could have found thatthe gas station did not knowingly discharge the gasoline. The court then holds that there was no reversible error on the trespass claim. A letter from the gas station's counsel asserting that the station owned the parcel by adverse possession contains statements of pure fact that indicate the gas station's intent. Exclusion of these statements was likely error. Any error, however, was rendered harmless by the park owner's failure to prove actual damage resulting from the trespass of the tanks.
The court last holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to set aside the verdict in favor of the consulting group. The evidence presented at trial was sufficient for the jury to find that there was no intention by the consulting group to benefit directly anyone other than the company it was hired by and that any benefit to the limited partnership was incidental or consequential.
Counsel for Plaintiff
Deborah R. Shupe
Berry, Adams, Quackenbush & Stuart
The Palmetto Bldg.
1400 Main St., Ste. 1400, Columbia SC 29202
Counsel for Defendants
James L. Werner
Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart
1426 Main St., Ste. 1820, Columbia SC 29211
Before Russell, Widener, and Hall, JJ.