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Davis v. Sun Oil Co.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20464
Nos. C-3-93-408, 929 F. Supp. 1077/(S.D. Ohio, 03/20/1996) collateral estoppel

The court holds that a state court finding that a former gasoline station was contaminated by benzene does not collaterally estop the station vendor from litigating whether the benzene contamination may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Based on its finding, the state court held that the vendor was liable to the purchasers for fraud because the vendor concealed underground pipes that released gasoline into the surrounding soil. The court first holds that the vendor is not estopped from litigating whether the levels and nature of the contamination may present an imminent and substantial endangerment. This issue was never determined by the state court. Although the state court found the existence of contamination, it made no finding as to the extent or the effect of the contamination. The court next holds that federal drinking water regulations pertaining to benzene do not allow it to hold as a matter of law that the levels of benzene at the gasoline station may present an imminent or substantial endangerment to health or the environment. There is simply no evidence as to either the precise quantity of gasoline remaining in the soil, whether the gasoline seepage currently has an effect on drinking water or is likely to have an effect, or what the magnitude of such an effect might be to health or the environment. And although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a maximum containment level (MCL) goal of zero for benzene, such MCL goals are nonenforceable health goals. Last, the court holds that a disagreement between the vendor's and purchasers' experts over the levels of benzene contamination at the gasoline station would appear to create a genuine issue of material fact as to the ultimate legal issue in this case. Thus, the court denies the purchasers' motion for summary judgment.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Joseph P. Moore
Sunderland & Moore
410 Corporation Center Dr., Vandalia OH 45377
(937) 898-3975

Counsel for Defendant
David S. Hoffmann
McMahon, DeGulis & Hoffmann
The Caxton Bldg.
812 Huron Rd., Ste. 650, Cleveland OH 44115
(216) 621-1312