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In re Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether Prods. Liab. Litig.

ELR Citation: 32 ELR 20228
Nos. No. 00 Civ. 1898 (SAS), 175 F. Supp. 2d 593/(S.D.N.Y., 08/20/2001)

The court denies most of oil companies' motions to dismiss in a class action suit brought by individual well owners claiming that the companies knowingly caused methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) contamination of their groundwater. The court first holds that the claims of several of the class participants, who did not allege MTBE contamination but rather threat of contamination, must be dismissed for lack of standing because they failed to demonstrate a clearly impending harm. The court then holds that the pervasive scheme of federal clean air laws and regulations under the Clean Air Act (CAA) does not bar the remaining claims under either conflict or express preemption. The well owners' claims are not brought for the purposes of regulating motor vehicle emissions control. Instead, they concern groundwater contamination caused by spills and leakage of gasoline containing MTBE, and are therefore outside the scope of CAA §211(c)(4)(A)'s preemption provision. Additionally, the well owners' claims are not within the primary jurisdiction of environmental agencies, thereby necessitating dismissal from the district court. The well owners' claims are grounded in state tort law and do not require the specialized technical or policy expertise of any governmental agency. Further, the failure of the participants to identify which specific company or companies caused their injury does not warrant dismissal of their claims because a theory of collective liability may be applied for the well owners' state-law claims. The court next holds that the well owners satisfied their burden to sustain their strict liability for design defect and negligence claims.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (95 pp., ELR Order No. L-398).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Philip S. Ross
Hoffinger, Stern & Ross
150 E. 58th St., 19th Fl., New York NY 10155
(212) 421-4000

Counsel for Defendants
Patrick C. Duncan Jr.
Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione
125 W. 55th St., New York NY 10019
(212) 649-4700