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New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Dimant

ELR Citation: 42 ELR 20201
Nos. 067993, (N.J., 09/26/2012)

The Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed a lower court decision dismissing the state environmental agency's contribution action against a dry cleaner under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act to recover costs incurred in investigating and remediating PCE-contaminated groundwater. The agency argued that the undisputed evidence of the dry cleaner's PCE discharge, combined with the fact that the highest concentrations of PCE in the area were found in the groundwater beneath the cleaner's property, created the necessary causal nexus to impose liability under the Spill Act. But the agency failed to demonstrate a nexus between the discharge proved to be committed by the dry cleaner during its period of operation and the groundwater contamination in issue. On proof of the existence of a discharge, one can obtain prompt injunctive relief under the Spill Act. However, in an action to obtain damages under the Act, there must be a reasonable link between the discharge, the putative discharger, and the contamination at the specifically damaged site. Here, the agency never made the requisite connection showing how the dripping PCE at the dry cleaners reasonably could have made its way into the groundwater. The court clarified, however, that the Spill Act does not require proof of the common law standard of proximate-cause causation of specific environmental damage as a precondition to relief under the Act.