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Uniroyal Chem. Co. v. Deltech Corp.

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 20285
Nos. 96-31226, 160 F.3d 238/(5th Cir., 11/10/1998)

The court holds several transportation companies liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for response costs incurred by a chemical manufacturer after a tanker truck carrying hazardous industrial chemicals ruptured while parked at a trucking terminal. The court first holds that the transportation companies are responsible persons under CERCLA §107(a)(1). Contrary to the companies' assertions, the disposal of hazardous waste is not an inherent and unavoidable requirement for the manufacturer's §107(a)(1) claims. CERCLA §107(a)(1) simply holds liable the present owner or operator of a vessel or facility; there is no reference in that section to a disposal. Moreover, the statutory text of CERCLA's core provisions suggests that Congress sought to address hazardous releases generally, not just disposals at hazardous waste sites. The expansive definition of "facility," which encompasses more than traditional waste sites, is strong evidence that Congress did not intend to limit CERCLA to waste disposal sites. Similarly, the acts listed in CERCLA §101(22)'s definition of "release" reach well beyond the mere act of disposal, and the CERCLA §101(14) definition of "hazardous substances" covers far more than mere waste material. In addition, the legislative history of CERCLA shows, with reasonable clarity, that over the course of the legislative process Congress expanded the statute to address releases of hazardous substances generally, not just disposals at toxic waste sites. Moreover, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has construed CERCLA as applying outside the context of waste disposal sites.

The court next holds that the companies' tanker truck and the trucking terminal are facilities under CERCLA §101(9) because they do not fall within the consumer products exception. Based on the plain language of the consumer products exception, the applicable legislative history, and CERCLA's broad remedial purposes, the CERCLA §101(9) phrase "consumer product in consumer use" means any good normally used for personal, family, or household purposes that was being used in that manner when the subject release occurred. On its face, the term consumer product refers to a good that is used by an individual for personal, family, or household purposes. Furthermore, if the consumer products exception excluded from liability any product that is not a waste, the exception would effectively remove an entire class of environmental threats from CERCLA's reach. Any accidental explosion, spill, or release of a useful industrial chemical would be excluded from the statute regardless of the threat posed to the public or the environment. Therefore, in accordance with the definition of consumer products, neither the tanker truck nor the trucking terminal are consumer products under the consumer products exception.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Michael D. Hunt
Phelps & Dunbar
445 N. Boulevard, Ste. 701, Baton Rouge LA 70821
(225) 346-0285

Counsel for Defendants
Thomas M. McNamara
Liskow & Lewis
822 Harding St., Lafayette LA 70505
(318) 232-7424

Before Magill,1 and Smith, JJ.