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United States v. Envirite Corp.

ELR Citation: 22 ELR 20887
Nos. No. H-89-279 (EBB), 143 F.R.D. 27/34 ERC 1613/(D. Conn., 04/03/1991)

The court vacates a consent decree that required a waste treatment and disposal company to pay a $60,000 civil penalty for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) because the government wrongfully withheld potentially exculpatory documents. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested nine samples of waste treated at the company's facility and found that each sample substantially exceeded the standards for at least one of four detected metals. EPA filed suit against the company alleging violations of RCRA and deviations from established laboratory procedures. Independent laboratory tests conducted at EPA's request revealed that only one of the nine samples contained an element in excess of a waste exclusion issued to the company, and that this exceedence was not as substantial as reported in the original EPA test. Despite a discovery request by the company requiring EPA to produce all laboratory test documents, the government did not submit a copy of these results to the company prior to entering the final consent decree.

The court vacates the consent decree under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(3), because the record establishes that counsel for EPA knew that the test results that led to the initiation of its action were invalid and possessed documentation showing the tests to be invalid prior to settlement of all pending claims. The court holds that the government counsel's production of only those documents that supported EPA's claims and withholding of documents that cast doubt on the underlying tests giving rise to those claims is misconduct. The company acted diligently by filing a document request and engaging in a good-faith exchange of documents, but government counsel failed to act diligently by not producing the results of the retest in question. As to the exculpatory nature of the test data withheld, the court finds that the test results and related materials that were withheld from the company cast doubt on the test processes employed by EPA and the independent laboratories. Finally, the court refuses to dismiss the action because the validity of EPA's claims remains in dispute.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Barry M. Hartman, Cynthia S. Huber
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000
Ruthann McQuade, Ass't U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box 1824, New Haven CT 06508
(203) 773-2108

Counsel for Defendant
Ridgway M. Hall Jr., R. Timothy McCrum
Crowell & Moring
1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20004
(202) 624-2500
Eric Lukingbeal, Richard Smith
Robinson & Cole
280 Trumbull St., 1 Commercial Plaza, Hartford CT 06103
(203) 275-8200