Friday, September 4, 2009

USA v. Apex Oil Company

Aug 25: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, Case No. 08-3433. As explained by the Appeals Court, Apex Oil Company appeals from the grant of an injunction, at the behest of U.S. EPA and on the authority of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, that requires Apex to clean up a contaminated site in Hartford, Illinois. In a 178-page opinion following a 17-day bench trial, the district judge made findings that millions of gallons of oil, composing a “hydrocarbon plume” trapped not far underground, are contaminating groundwater and emitting fumes that rise to the surface and enter houses in Hartford and in both respects are creating hazards to health and the environment. The Appeals Court said, "The judge deemed it Apex’s legal responsibility to abate this nuisance because the plume was created by an oil refinery owned by a corporate predecessor of Apex. Apex challenges the findings and conclusion, but the challenge has no possible merit."

The Appeals Court indicated, "The principal question presented by the appeal is unrelated to the district judge’s findings and conclusions; it is whether the government’s claim to an injunction was discharged in bankruptcy and therefore cannot be renewed in a subsequent lawsuit -- this suit. The bankruptcy judge’s confirmation (approval) of a claim in a Chapter 11 proceeding discharges the debtor from 'any debt that arose before the date of' confirmation, with immaterial exceptions." The Appeals Court affirmed the decision and said, "There is no improper delegation to the EPA (compare United States v. Microsoft Corp., 147 F.3d 935, 955 (D.C. Cir. 1998)), because its exercise of 'oversight and approval' will be subject to the court’s override."

Access the complete opinion (click here). [Please Note: The 7th circuit has a temporary web hyperlink nomenclature system. If the link does not work click on this link and enter the case number above (click here).]