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Acushnet Co. v. Coaters, Inc.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20652
Nos. No. 93-11219-REK, 948 F. Supp. 128/44 ERC 1086/(D. Mass., 12/17/1996) Summary judgment granted to nonsettling PRPs

The court grants summary judgment in favor of three defendant potentially responsible parties (PRPs) in a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) contribution action because plaintiff PRPs failed to produce sufficient evidence as to the quantity and nature of the hazardous substances allegedly dumped by defendants at the Sullivan's Ledge site in Massachusetts. The court first holds that both CERCLA and the Gore factors require courts to use an equitable threshold requirement in determining contribution liability. Plaintiffs must show that the parties they elected to sue are among those responsible to some significant degree, as measured by an appropriately fashioned threshold-of-significance standard, for deposits of hazardous waste at the site. The court then holds that plaintiffs are not entitled to a presumption of innocence merely because they entered into a consent decree that contained a boilerplate recitation that they admitted to no wrongdoing. Before plaintiffs can become entitled to favored treatment, they must proffer evidence to explain why, if they were completely innocent, they chose to commit themselves to paying the large sums they now claim they should be allowed to recoup from others.

The court next rejects plaintiffs' argument that establishing that defendants contributed either a de minimis or slightly larger amount of hazardous substances is enough to survive a motion for summary judgment and to support contribution liability. This legal contention is entirely unsupported by statutory text and interpretive decisions. The court then holds that judgment as a matter of law is appropriate for these defendants because of the scantiness of the evidence proffered against them. The mass of one of the defendant's waste cable is thousands of times less than the remaining contributions of others. Further, the nature, quantities, toxicities, and durability of any hazardous substances included in the waste cable is minimal compared to the enormous quantities of these substances at the site. And plaintiffs failed to prove a causal connection between defendants' disposal activities and the remediation costs incurred or to be incurred by plaintiffs.

The court then holds that additional issues of fact and law preclude it from granting summary judgment in favor of a fourth nonsettling PRP. The court invites further submissions from counsel on economic and other aspects of governmental and private-entity relationships, public and private interest, and transaction costs (including litigation costs) with respect to implementing one or another type of remediation for toxic-waste sites. The court next orders both plaintiffs and defendants to submit more precisely fashioned jury interrogatories in their requests to submit the case to a jury. The court then sets forth a structure for considering burdens and legal tests for resolving the remaining issues, and invites counsel to present their contentions about whether this structure is appropriate and what outcome the court should reach if this structure is used.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
David M. Jones, Wendy del Real
Kirkpatrick & Lockhart
One International Pl., 13th Fl., Boston MA 02110
(617) 261-3100

Counsel for Defendants
Arthur J. Caron Jr., City Solicitor
City Solicitor's Office
Government Center
119 School St., Waltham MA 02154
(617) 893-4040