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United States v. Parsons

Citation: 19 ELR 21420
No. No. 4:88-cv-75-HLM, 723 F. Supp. 757/30 ERC 1160/(N.D. Ga., 07/12/1989) Summary judgment on liability granted, punitive damages denied

The court holds that defendants are liable under § 107 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for the federal government's response costs at a Georgia farm site, but defendants are not liable for punitive damages. The court holds that the owner of the farm where the hazardous substances were disposed is liable under § 107(a)(2). The owner's claim that he did not know about the drums and did not give permission for them to be dumped could be the basis for the third-party defense under § 107(b)(3), but the owner presented no evidence to support his claim. The court holds that four defendants are liable under CERCLA § 107(a)(3) as parties who arranged for the transportation of the waste for disposal. One of these defendants, the general partner of a company that purchased a building at an auction with the knowledge that hazardous waste might be stored there, cannot escape liability even if the court accepts his argument that he did not own the drums. A person is liable under § 107(a)(3) if heowns or possesses hazardous substances and arranges for their transport. That this defendant did not personally select the disposal site is also no defense. The court also rejects this defendant's assertion that he is not liable because he instructed a company to dispose of the drums properly. The defendant is an officer of the company, the company removed the drums pursuant to a contractual agreement with the defendant, and there is no evidence that the defendant exercised due care to prevent the company's foreseeable acts. The court holds that three defendants are liable under CERCLA § 107(a)(4) because they accepted hazardous substances for transport to dispose of at a site they selected. The court holds, however, that the government is not entitled to summary judgment on its claim for punitive damages under § 107(c)(3) for defendants' failure to comply with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrative cleanup order. The order gave defendants 72 hours to respond and there is some question in the record as to whether EPA began its removal operations prior to the expiration of the 72 hour period. The court rejects several other arguments offered by defendants against the imposition of punitive damages, including financial inability to perform the cleanup and alleged lack of knowledge of the contents of the drums.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Jon Mueller
Land and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, P.O. Box 7611, Ben Franklin Station, Washington DC 20044
(202) 633-2000
Daniel Caldwell III, Ass't U.S. Attorney
1800 U.S. Courthouse, 75 Spring St. SW, Atlanta GA 30335
(404) 331-4216

Counsel for Defendants
William Frulla
Morgan Keegan Tower, 50 N. Front St., Memphis TN 38103
(901) 567-8000