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United States v. Serafini

Citation: 19 ELR 20828
No. No. 86-1591, 706 F. Supp. 346/28 ERC 1162/(M.D. Pa., 02/18/1988) Innocent landowner defense

The court holds that the failure of landowners to inspect property prior to purchase and to find plainly visible leaking hazardous waste drums does not negate the innocent landowner defense in Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) § 101(35). The court first holds that the government has made out a prima facie case against the defendants. The defendants admitted that the site was a facility within the meaning of CERCLA, that a release had occurred, and that the federal government had incurred response costs. Although defendants claimed that they are not owners under CERCLA, their own documents submitted to the court show otherwise. The court then holds that the alleged failure of the defendants to properly inspect the property prior to purchase does not negate CERCLA's innocent landowner defense. That the 1,100 55-gallon drums were visible to the naked eye is not enough to establish that the defendants did not make, as required by CERCLA § 101(35)(B), "all appropriate inquiry" into the status of the property, and the government has presented no evidence that the defendants' failure to inspect or inquire was inconsistent with good commercial or customary practices.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Robert R. Kuehn, Steven R. Baer
Land and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2000

Counsel for Defendant
David J. Rinaldi
212 Colfax Ave., Scranton PA 18512
(717) 344-3244

Brian J. Cali, Robert A. Cecchini
Cali, Cecchini & Bolack
Scranton Electric Bldg., Ste. 415, Scranton PA 18503
(717) 347-7887