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Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States

ELR Citation: 30 ELR 20158
Nos. No. 99-1130, (E.D. Pa., 10/12/1999) subject matter jurisdiction

The court holds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a former battery manufacturer's Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claim against the United States to recover $4.5 million the manufacturer paid to settle tort claims for property and personal injuries allegedly caused by the manufacturing plant's release of hazardous chemicals. The United States owned the plant before selling it to the manufacturer. The court first holds that New York's law of contribution and indemnification controls. The release of hazardous chemicals took place within the state of New York. Moreover, even if some of the acts or omissions took place in Pennsylvania, as the manufacturer contends, New York law would still apply under the facts of this case. The court next holds that the manufacturer failed to demonstrate that the United States waived the protections offered by §15-108(c) of New York's General Obligations Law, which provides that a tortfeasor who has obtained a release from liability is not entitled to contribution from any other person. Despite language contained in a previous consent decree between the United States and the manufacturer that addressed liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the decree falls short of a clear and unambiguous waiver by the United States of its rights under §15-108(c). The court, therefore, then holds that because the United States would not be liable to the manufacturer for contribution under New York law, the FTCA's waiver of sovereign immunity does not apply. The court also holds that the manufacturer's claims for indemnification also must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Under New York case law, common-law indemnity is barred altogether where the party seeking indemnification was itself at fault. Here, the manufacturer's liability is predicated at least in part on its own negligence.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Joel D. Gusky
Harvey, Pennington, Cabot, Griffith & Renneisen
11 Penn Center
1835 Market St., 29th Fl., Philadelphia PA 19103
(215) 563-4470

Counsel for Defendant
Ugo Colella
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000