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United States v. Alexander

ELR Citation: 23 ELR 20791
Nos. No. 92-7038, 981 F.2d 250/37 ERC 1149/(5th Cir., 01/21/1993) Rule 11 sanctions vacated, remanded

The court holds that the district court abused its discretion by imposing sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 against a party that was responsible for the cleanup of hazardous waste and had filed a cross-claim for contribution and indemnity against defendants, including those who had settled with the government four years earlier. The court concludes that the third-party complaint was supported by plausible legal arguments. The complaint had reasonable support under the settlement agreement, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and state law. First, the settlement agreement did not extinguish the party's contribution rights in that the government had not fully released the settling defendants from governmental liability, and thus, they are not shielded from the responsible party's contribution claim. Second, CERCLA §§113(f)(2) and 122(g)(5), on their face, do not protect settling defendants from claims for contribution for matters not addressed in the settlement. Third, the claim raised an issue of first impression in the circuit. The court also holds that sloppy service does not render an otherwise legally and factually justifiable filing sanctionable under Rule 11.

[The district court's decision is published at 22 ELR 20447.]

Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellee
J. Carol Williams
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Defendants
Douglas Craig
Winstead, Sechrest & Minick
910 Travis Bldg., Ste. 1700, Houston TX 77010
(713) 650-2765

Before DAVIS and JONES, Circuit Judges and PARKER1, District Judge.