Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Memphis Zane May Assocs. v. IBC Manufacturing Co.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20870
Nos. 94-2132-D, 952 F. Supp. 541/(W.D. Tenn., 09/30/1996)

The court holds that four companies may be liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for response costs and under state common law for damages resulting from contamination at two sites, but that they are not liable for contamination at three other sites. The court first holds that plaintiffs must show a nexus between their response costs and a release from a defendant's property as a necessary predicate to a finding of joint and several liability. Although CERCLA does not require a plaintiff to prove that a specific defendant's waste caused it to incur cleanup costs, the statute does require the party claiming an environmental injury to show that a release of hazardous or toxic materials caused incurrence of response costs. And although traditional tort notions of causation do not apply in CERCLA, plaintiffs must demonstrate a relationship between a defendant and the release or threatened release of a hazardous substance. Further, liability under the Superfund law requires the plaintiff to have expended money to counter the effects of a release (or the threatened release) of hazardous substances from a defendant's facility. The causation requirement is satisfied by proof that hazardous substances like those contained in a defendant's release of wastes were found at the site. The court holds that no defendant may be found liable for contamination detected at three of the sites, because no reasonable jury could find a nexus between any of the defendant companies and those three sites. However, there is a genuine issue of material fact whether a release of pollutants from the defendants' facilities caused plaintiffs to incur response costs at the other two sites. The court next holds that the latter two sites are effectively contiguous given their geographical proximity and the flow of groundwater, and thus may be considered as a single piece of property for evaluating the divisibility of harm. The court finds that a reasonable estimate that will fairly apportion liability among the defendants exists as to the pentachlorophenol and petroleum hydrocarbon contamination alleged by plaintiffs.

Turning to plaintiffs' state-law claims, the court notes that the Tennessee Supreme Court has abolished the doctrine of joint and several liability and has not backtracked on its decision. The court holds that defendants cannot be held liable under state law for damages at the group of three sites, because plaintiffs failed to demonstrate even a minimal causal nexus. However, defendants have not met their burden to show there are no genuine issues of material fact concerning the parties responsible for contamination at the other two sites. Thus, while defendants may not be held jointly and severally liable for damages at those two sites, plaintiffs may still pursue their state tort claims and attempt to prove their harm was proximately caused by a particular defendant's action or inaction.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Saul C. Belz
Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi
2800 La Salle Plaza
800 La Salle Ave., Minneapolis MN 55402
(612) 349-8500

Counsel for Defendants
Allen T. Malone
Apperson, Crump, Duzane & Maxwell
One Commerce Sq., Ste. 2110, Memphis TN 38103
(901) 525-1711