Prisco v. A & D Carting Corp.
Citation: 29 ELR 20609
The court affirms the dismissal of a landfill owner's Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) claims against private and state defendants. The court first holds that the district court correctly required the owner to prove that specific defendants actually transported hazardous substances to the landfill in order to establish their potentially responsible party (PRP) status under CERCLA § 107(a)(4). The court next holds that the district court's finding that the owner failed to prove that any specific defendant transported hazardous substances to the site was not clearly erroneous. The court then holds that the district court did err by requiring the owner to establish that any hazardous materials containing materials that particular defendants transported to the site actually released those substances into the environment. The error, however, is harmless because the district court's conclusion that the owner failed to prove that any particular defendant transported a hazardous substance to the site was not clearly erroneous, no particular defendant can be held liable irrespective of the wrongly imposed independent releasability requirement. The court then rejects the owner's arguments that some of the defendants should have been found to be PRPs under categories of CERCLA § 107(a) other than the transporter category. Again, the district court, as finder of fact, concluded that the presence of any hazardous substances in defendants' material was not proven. Therefore, defendants cannot be held liable on theories of generator and operator liability.
The court also holds that the owner was not prejudiced when the district court revisited and reversed the PRP issue after it granted summary judgment in the owner's favor. The district court departed from its prior ruling to correct an error of law, which is a valid reason for such a departure. Moreover, the owner admitted that she would not have had proof to establish that any specific defendants brought hazardous substances to the site, even had she been timely apprised that this was going to be a key issue at trial.
The court then holds that the district court correctly interpreted RCRA § 7002(a)(1)(B) to require the owner to prove that particular defendants' waste was of a type that could contribute to an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment. The court also holds that the district court correctly determined that the owner failed to prove that particular defendants were connected to particular waste that might give rise to an imminent and substantial endangerment. Moreover, the district court's resolution of the owner's RCRA claim in defendants' favor when it revisited the PRP issue did not suggest that the court no longer viewed the defendants as "persons." The rejection of the owner's RCRA claim turned on the separate, theretofore unaddressed question of whether she could prove that the waste attributable to particular defendants was linked to an imminent and substantial endangerment.
Last, the court holds that the state defendants could not be liable even were the court to conclude that the district court erred in rejecting any of the owner's theories of vicarious liability. Because the owner cannot prove that law enforcement officials' conduct, as operators of the landfill, triggers RCRA liability, nothing turns on the question of whether the state and its agencies may be held accountable for the officials' actions.
Counsel for Plaintiff
Michael V. Sclafani
Reardon & Sclafani
Three Executive Blvd., Yonkers NY 10701
Counsel for Defendants
Jeffrey I. Klein
Law Offices of Jeffrey I. Klein
235 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains NY 10605
Before Parker and Sear,* JJ.