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Florida Power & Light Co. v. Allis-Chalmers Corp.

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 21440
Nos. 94-4834, 85 F.3d 1514/43 ERC 1048/(11th Cir., 06/25/1996) Summary judgment aff'd

The court affirms a district court grant of summary judgment to defendant manufacturers of contaminated electrical transformers in a state-law suit by a utility that bought the transformers and paid Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) cleanup costs at the transformers' disposal site. The court first holds that the applicable Florida statutes of limitations bar the utility's state-law tort and contract claims. The causes of action accrued and the statutes began to run in 1977, when the manufacturers notified the utility that the mineral oil in the transformers was contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), not in 1983 when the utility incurred cleanup costs. Although the utility did not know the full extent of its injury in 1977, it had actual knowledge that the transformers contained PCBs and that PCBs accumulate in the environment, and had sustained at least nominal damages due to the testing and draining of the contaminated mineral oil from the transformers. The court next affirms the district court's grant of summary judgment on the utility's state-law restitution and indemnity claims. Because the utility has not met its burden of demonstrating that the manufacturers' transactions with it involved anything more than mere sales, the manufacturers owe no duty under CERCLA to clean up the site. Thus, the utility cannot demonstrate that it conferred a benefit on the manufacturers when it paid for the cleanup of the site. The court next affirms the district court's denial of the utility's motion to amend its complaint to add a claim that the manufacturers are liable for contribution under CERCLA §107 as "owners" of a "facility." Even if an electrical transformer were a facility for purposes of CERCLA, the contribution claim fails because the disposal-site owner, and not the manufacturers, owned the transformers at the time the PCB-contaminated oil was released from the "facility." Finally, the court holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the utility's motion for a default judgment based on the manufacturers' delay in producing discovery documents.

[Other decisions in this litigation are published at 18 ELR 20998, 20 ELR 20523, and 21 ELR 20619. Briefs are digested at ELR BRIEFS & PLEADS. 66054.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
Norman A. Coll
Coll, Davidson, Carter, Smith, Salter & Barkett
3200 Miami Ctr.
201 S. Biscayne Blvd., Miami FL 33131
(305) 373-5200

Counsel for Defendants
Jay M. Levy
Law Offices of Jay M. Levy
6401 SW 87th Ave., Miami FL 33173
(305) 279-8700

Before HATCHETT and BLACK, Circuit Judges, and CLARK, Senior Circuit Judge.