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United States v. Saporito

ELR Citation: 40 ELR 20053
Nos. No. 07C3169, (N.D. Ill., 02/09/2010)

A district court granted the United States’ motion for summary judgment to recover under CERCLA costs it incurred to clean up hazardous substances from a metal plating facility. First, on the issue of responsible party, the court held that, although it was a disputed question of fact as to whether defendant was a responsible party under CERCLA as a past operator of the facility, defendant was a current owner for purposes of CERCLA. Specifically, the court held that defendant was a facility owner at the time of the cleanup based on his ownership of equipment used in the plating process. Just as CERCLA extends liability to a landowner who may not even be aware of pollution-producing activities by a lessee, it also extends liability to an equipment owner like defendant whose lessee is using the equipment in a similar manner. The United States need not show that any specific piece of equipment he owned was responsible for specific releases of hazardous chemicals or specific cleanup costs. Second, on the issue of release or a threatened release of a hazardous substance, it was undisputed that thousands of gallons of hazardous waste were being stored unsafely in a building with a deteriorating concrete floor. This is sufficient to show a threatened release of hazardous waste. Third, on the costs incurred in response to the release or threatened release, it was sufficient to show that the material the government cleaned up was threatening a release. Once the requisite connection between the defendant and a hazardous waste site has been established, it is enough that response costs resulted from “a” release or threatened release – not necessarily the defendant’s release or threatened release. Finally, based on the facts of the case, all of defendant’s defenses fail, including defendant’s CERCLA third-party defense. The goals of CERCLA would not be advanced by holding that an equipment owner exercises due care merely by including a provision in the equipment lease requiring the equipment user to comply with the law. Defendant’s defenses related to apportionment and government misconduct also fail.