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Soo Line R.R. Co. v. B.J. Carney & Co.

ELR Citation: 28 ELR 20504
Nos. CIV. 4-95-908, 982 F. Supp. 1365/(D. Minn., 11/06/1997)

The court holds that a railroad company lessor is barred from recovering economic losses and property damages associated with hazardous waste contamination on its leased site. The court first holds that the lessor's claim for economic losses and property damages under the Minnesota Environmental Response and Liability Act (MERLA) is barred under the repose provision set forth in §115B.06. MERLA claims are barred under §115B.06 because any hazardous substance associated with the lessee's pole-treating operations was placed or came to be located in or on the facility wholly before July 1, 1983. The court finds the lessor's argument that contamination from the adjacent site owned by the lessee has continued to migrate to the leased site since 1983 to be unavailing. The lessor's interpretation of §115B.06 defies the plain meaning of the statute, would render certain language in and portions of MERLA superfluous, and is unreasonable in light of the statute's purpose. First, the concepts of "release of a hazardous substance" and that of "placed or came to be located in or on the facility" do not mean the same thing in this context. The legislature's inclusion of both terms in §115B.06 makes it clear that the latter was not intended to mean the former. Next, if "placed or came to be located in or on" contemplates underground migration of contaminants and therefore can have the same meaning as "release," §115B.06 would be rendered superfluous because §115B.15 already contains a repose provision for releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances. Moreover, the lessor's reading of the repose provision is untenable because it is premised on a definition of "facility" that is contrary to the clear meaning of the term as it is used in the statute. Under §115B.05, a facility is a site that is the source of the contamination, not a site that is the recipient of the migrating contaminants. Finally, such a strained reading of the statute would defy the intent of the legislature in enacting the current version of §115B.06. If the statute were construed to allow liability any time there is continuing migration of contaminants from one property to another after July 1, 1983, the statute would provide little protection for those whose actions occurred entirely before that date. The court next holds that the lessor's common-law claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The facts support the conclusion that a reasonable person in lessor's position should have known of the bases of its claims in the early 1980s.

[A prior decision in this litigation is published at 23 ELR 20172.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
Wayne G. Popham
Hinshaw & Culbertson
Piper Jaffray Tower
222 S. 9th St., Ste. 3300, Minneapolis MN 55402
(612) 333-3434

Counsel for Defendants
Gerard M. Nolting, Delmar R. Ehrich
Faegre & Benson
2200 Norwest Center
90 S. 7th St., Minneapolis MN 55402
(612) 336-3000