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New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Occidental Chemical Corp.

ELR Citation: 42 ELR 20095
Nos. Nos. A-4620-10T2 et al., (N.J. Super. Ct. App., 04/24/2012)

A New Jersey appellate court held that two defendants in a state environmental cleanup suit may seek contribution from numerous third parties under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act. The state's environmental agency filed environmental cleanup suits against nine business entities for discharging toxic chemicals from a chemical manufacturing plant in Newark. The agency alleged that for at least 20 years, these companies, and/or their predecessors, intentionally polluted the Passaic River with hazardous substances. Two of these defendants sought contribution from numerous third-party defendants. The third-party defendants filed motions to dismiss, arguing that the claims were barred by various consent decrees they had previously entered into with the state agency. But at this stage of the proceedings, the court cannot determine whether the contribution protection provided in the proffered settlement documents encompass and therefore bar the defendants' third-party claims as a matter of law. The scope of the underlying settlements is not clear from the face of the agreements. Additional discovery and fact finding is therefore necessary. Accordingly, the court upheld a lower court order denying the third-party defendants' motions to dismiss.