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Kalamazoo River Study Group v. Menasha Corp.

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20169
Nos. No. 99-1197, 228 F.3d 648/(6th Cir., 10/05/2000) CERCLA contribution action

The court reverses a district court decision granting summary judgment in favor of two corporations in a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) action brought by a paper manufacturers' association seeking contribution for costs incurred in the investigation and remediation of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The court first holds that the district court applied an incorrect legal standard for determining liability under CERCLA by requiring plaintiffs in CERCLA §113 contribution actions to show causation. It is clear from the text, structure, and legislative history of CERCLA §107 that it does not require a plaintiff to show that a particular defendant caused either the release or the incurrence of response costs in order to prove liability. The district court held that CERCLA §113 contribution actions are subject to a different liability standard than CERCLA §107 actions. However, the liability standard for §113 contribution actions is the same as for §107 cost recovery actions. Therefore, a defendant need not prove causation in order to establish a defendant's §113 liability. Although the equitable contribution principles of CERCLA §113(f) allow a district court to consider causation, such consideration is proper only in allocating response costs, not, as here, in determining liability.

The court next reverses the district court's grant of summary judgment to the association because material questions of fact exist as to the corporations' liability under the proper legal standard for CERCLA §113 liability. The relevant inquiry in this case is whether each defendant discharged PCBs to the site, not whether it discharged PCBs to the site in sufficient quantity to have justified the association's incurrence of response costs. For one corporation, the association presented evidence that the corporation discharged PCBs to the Kalamazoo River. The corporation contests the reliability of the association's test results and offers an alternative hypothesis. Similarly, the evidence presented by the association, although circumstantial, was sufficient to enable a reasonable juror to conclude that the second corporation used PCBs at one of its facilities. Likewise, direct evidence existed that the second corporation discharged PCBs to the river at a second facility. The court last holds that the district court did not err in refusing to admit a certain document regarding one of the second corporation's facilities.

[Prior decisions is this litigation are published at 28 ELR 21139 and 29 ELR 21003.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
Jerome T. Wolf
Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal
4520 Main St., Ste. 1100, Kansas City MO 64111
(816) 932-4400

Counsel for Defendants
Richard A. Glaser
Dickinson & Wright
200 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids MI 49503
(616) 458-1300

Before Jones and Gilman, JJ.