South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Courts Have Broad Discretion to Allocate Superfund Cleanup Costs
Description Appeals court held that by statute, once the EPA has finalized plans for remediation of a Superfund site, there may be no challenges to the plan based on statutory or constitutional claims until after the remediation is complete.
Topic Environmental Law
Key Words Superfund, Responsible Parties, Special Master, Discretion
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts For decades, two municipal landfills accepted chemical wastes. The EPA declared the landfills to be Superfund sites because they were leaking chemicals into groundwater. The EPA identified various parties that contributed to the waste and entered into consent decrees for them to contribute to the cost of cleanup. Those parties then sued to hold other parties, including the municipalities that ran the landfills, liable for contribution. In a long, complicated litigation, a special master was appointed by the court to try to mediate a settlement. The special master came to certain conclusions about which parties contributed how much waste. At trial, the district court did not follow the conclusion of the special master and allocated much of the liability to the municipalities that ran the landfills. They appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. Appeals courts will not overturn a district court's allocation of remediation costs in Superfund cases unless there is an abuse of discretion. It was within the right of the court not to follow all of the findings of the special master and to allocate more costs to the municipalities than recommended by the master. For the court to abuse its discretion, it would have to have committed an error of law or be clearly wrong in its finding of facts. The allocation of costs in such complicated proceedings may produce varying results; the court chose a method of allocation that was proper based on the evidence.

Citation Goodrich Corp. v. Town of Middlebury, 311 F.3d 154 (2nd Cir., 2002)

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