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A.J. Lancaster v. North Carolina Dep't of Envtl. & Natural Resources

ELR Citation: 37 ELR 20278
Nos. No. COA07-149, (N.C. Ct. App., 11/06/2007)

A North Carolina appeals court denied respondent agency’s appeal of a lower court's reversal of the agency's assessment of a civil penalty for petitioner's failure to meet certain requirements related to leaking underground storage tanks (USTs). Petitioner inherited the property from his father who operated USTs on the property and who was notified of contaminants attributable to the USTs prior to his death in 1991. Petitioner removed the USTs and associated soils in 1993, and the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources requested that he perform a comprehensive site assessment (CSA). Petitioner failed to submit a complete CSA and after notices of violation and voluminous correspondence, the agency assessed in excess of $7,000 in penalties against petitioner. Petitioner appealed the agency decision to the superior court which reversed on the basis that petitioner acquired the property by inheritance without knowledge or reasonable basis for knowing that groundwater contamination at the site had occurred and was therefore absolved of liability under the innocent landowner exception of 15A N.C.A.C. 2L.0101(b). The appeals court affirmed. Ownership of the USTs is not sufficient to impute liability where such liability attaches to "responsible parties," the definition for which specifically excludes persons who acquire property without prior knowledge of contamination. Further, petitioner had no obligation to file a CSA because the discharge occurred before he acquired the subject property.