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United States v. Price

Citation: 12 ELR 21020
No. No. 82-5030, 688 F.2d 204/17 ERC 2155/(3d Cir., 09/14/1982) Aff'd

The Third Circuit rules that a district court has the authority, pursuant to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), to order the past and present owners of a hazardous waste disposal site to fund a diagnostic study of the threat posed by contaminants leaching from the site and to provide an alternative water supply to owners of private contaminated wells. Initially, the court deems appellant's appeal, although filed prematurely, to be proper since appellees failed to demonstrate any prejudice resulting from the premature filing. Next, the court rules that the provision of funds for an initial diagnostic study and the installation of public water mains in the contaminated areas by parties other than appellees do not moot the appeal since these remedial steps did not provide the full relief requested by appellant.

Turning to the merits, the court rules that, while the district court, 11 ELR 21047, did not abuse its discretion in denying relief, it did express an unduly restrictive view of its remedial powers under traditional equitable principles and under § 7003 of RCRA and § 1431 of the SDWA. The court rules that the requested preliminary equitable relief was not, as the district court concluded, a disguised claim for damages since the funding of a diagnostic study in the instant case constitutes a preventive, rather than compensatory, form of relief. And since the status quo in the instant case is a condition of action, mandatory injunctive relief is needed to prevent irreparable injury.

The court also determines that § 7003 of RCRA evinces a gressional intent to authorize courts to grant affirmative equitable relief, including provision for an alternative water supply, needed to eliminate the risks presented by toxic wastes. And the authority conferred upon courts by § 1431 of the SDWA is broad enough to authorize the requested diagnostic study. The court, however, affirms the district court refusal to order defendants to fund the study since only a few of the 35 defendants would be bound, a very large sum of money is involved, and such denial may have been in the public interest. Finally, the court rules that the district court erred in failing to proceed with the merits of the case during the pendency of the appeal.

[The pleadings in this case are summarized at ELR PEND. LIT. 65722 and 65761 — Ed.]

Counsel for Appellant
Lloyd S. Guerci, Jacques B. Gelin, Wendy B. Jacobs, Peter R. Steenland Jr.
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-4351

W. Hunt Dumont, U.S. Attorney; Ralph A. Jacobs, Michael V. Gilberti
970 Broad St., Newark NJ 07102
(201) 645-2155

Counsel for Appellees
John P. Hauch Jr.
Archer, Greiner & Read
1 Centennial Sq., Haddonfield NJ 08033
(609) 795-2121

Robert E. Gladden
Gladden, Brierley & Paglione
501 Cooper St., Camden NJ 08102
(609) 964-0160

Re joined by Aldisert and Weis, JJ.