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Quaker State Corp. v. U.S. Coast Guard

Citation: 19 ELR 21455
No. No. 87-55 Erie, 716 F. Supp. 210/30 ERC 1661/(W.D. Pa., 07/31/1989) Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment denied

The court holds that an oil company may be liable as a culpable third party under § 311(g) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) for costs arising from excavation and removal of oil-contaminated ground at a national forest site, even if the United States Forest Service as owner/operator of the site was partially responsible for the oil discharge. In general, an owner/operator is strictly liable for cleanup costs under FWPCA § 311(f) and cannot shift responsibility to a third party unless the owner/operator establishes that the third party alone is culpable. In this case, however, the owner/operator is the United States government, specifically exempted under the FWPCA from strict liability for cleanup costs. The government has alleged that the oil company caused the discharge, and the FWPCA explicitly excuses any contributory negligence of the government. Unlike the negligence of any other owner/operator, the negligence of the United States government does not shield the culpable third party from liability. The FWPCA is designed to provide the government with a quick and ready source for reimbursement of cleanup costs. Third party liability is narrow and ordinarily extinguished by the liability of a culpable owner/operator, but Congress clearly stated its intention to excuse the contributory negligence of the United States. In this way, Congress ensures that someone in the industry, whether owner/operator or third party, will be liable for the costs of cleanup.

[A previous decision in this case appears at 18 ELR 20826.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
Chester R. Babst III, Dean A. Calland
Babst, Calland, Clements & Zomnir
Eighth Fl., Two Gateway Center, Pittsburgh PA 15222
(412) 394-5400

Counsel for Defendant
Lawrence R. Liebesman, Ellen M. Mahan
Land and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, P.O. Box 7611, Ben Franklin Station, Washington DC 20044
(202) 633-2000