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United States v. Dearborn Refining Co.

ELR Citation: 41 ELR 20145
Nos. No. 09-CV-13597, (E.D. Mich., 03/31/2011)

A district court held that the United States' action to collect an EPA civil monetary penalty imposed against an oil refining company under RCRA and the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act (FDCPA) is not time barred. The parties agreed that the five-year limitations period under 28 U.S.C. §2462 is applicable to this action, but disagreed regarding when the period began to run. The government argued that its claim accrued on October 10, 2004, the date on which the company became noncompliant with the EPA Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) final order affirming the imposition of the penalty. The company, on the other hand, argued that the government's claim first accrued on September 10, 2004, the date on which the final order was issued and filed. The date triggering the clock under §2462 is the earliest date on which the government could have brought the present enforcement action. Here, the EAB final order provided for a 30-day period during which the parties could negotiate a payment plan and expressly deferred any payment obligation until October 10, 2004. Given that the government had to wait at least 30 days to receive payment, it would be inconsistent with the language of the order to conclude that, on September 10, 2004, the government could have initiated court proceedings against the company, insisting that it had a right to demand payment. Moreover, the government could not have satisfied the injury in fact and redressability requirements for Article III standing until that date on which the company defaulted on the penalty payment. And an action under the FDCPA is premature until such point as the government has a right to demand payment of an amount owed. Accordingly, the limitations period in this case began running on October 10, 2004, the date on which the company became noncompliant with the EAB order. The case is therefore timely.