Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Cross Oil Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20539
Nos. 4:95CV1380-DJS, 944 F. Supp. 787/(E.D. Mo., 10/11/1996)

The court dismisses Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), common-law strict liability, negligence, private nuisance, continuing trespass, contribution, and indemnity claims that the current owners and operator of contaminated property brought against a former owner of the site. The court first dismisses plaintiffs' RCRA action to recover their cleanup costs. In Meghrig v. KFC Western, Inc., 26 ELR 20820 (1996), the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that RCRA does not authorize a private cause of action to recover the prior cost of cleaning up toxic waste that does not, at the time of suit, continue to pose an endangerment to health or the environment. Because plaintiffs have not pled that the hydrocarbon contamination at issue presents an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment, RCRA does not provide them with a private cause of action to recover their cleanup costs. Relying on KFC Western, the court also dismisses plaintiffs' RCRA action for a declaratory judgment that the past site owner is strictly liable to them for the cleanup costs and losses that they have incurred and will continue to incur.

The court next dismisses plaintiffs' common-law strict liability claim, because it is nonsensical to formulate a rule that an actor is strictly liable for harm inflicted on his or her property. The court further dismisses plaintiffs' negligence claim, because the past site owner owed no duty to plaintiffs to maintain its property in a certain condition that affected plaintiffs as future landowners. The court also finds no authority to support plaintiffs' claim for negligent nondisclosure. In addition, plaintiffs' fraudulent nondisclosure claim is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Under R.S. Mo. §516.120(5), a plaintiff wishing to bring a fraud action has 10 years from the commission of the fraudulent act to discover the fraud. If the plaintiff fails to discover the fraud within that period, the five-year statute of limitations period begins to run. In this case, plaintiffs acquired the contaminated property in 1977. They had until 1987 to discover the fraud. At that time, the five-year statute of limitations began to run, but plaintiffs did not file their claim of fraudulent nondisclosure until August 3, 1995.

The court next dismisses plaintiffs' private nuisance claim, because none of the cases they cited supports the claim that a current property owner may recover against a prior owner for a condition that the prior owner created on that property. The court dismisses plaintiffs' continuing trespass claim, because the past site owner did not tortiously interfere with plaintiffs' property when it buried materials on land it then owned. And the court dismisses plaintiffs' contribution and indemnity claims, because a claim for contribution or indemnity cannot stand where there is no liability on the principal claims.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
John F. Arnold
Lashly & Baer
714 Locust St., St. Louis MO 63101
(314) 621-2939

Counsel for Defendant
Ian P. Cooper
Peper, Martin, Jensen, Maichel & Hetlage
720 Olive St., 24th Fl., St. Louis MO 63101
(314) 421-3850