Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Del-Ray Battery Company, et al v. Douglas Battery

Mar 14: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Case No. 10-40515. Appellants, battery recyclers, were sued under the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) in Texas State court for contribution to environmental clean-up costs incurred by Appellees. Appellants asserted in their defense that the Superfund Recycling Equity Act (SREA) -- an amendment to the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) that exempts certain recyclers from liability for clean-up costs under CERCLA, and awards costs and fees to any recyclers improperly sued for contribution under CERCLA -- applied to protect them from the State court action brought pursuant to the SWDA. After Appellees non-suited the State court case, Appellants brought the Federal court action requesting declaratory relief as to the SREA and seeking, under the SREA, the attorneys' and experts' fees they incurred in defending the State court action. They appealed the district court's judgment dismissing their complaint and the Appeals Court affirmed the district court's decision.
    By way of background, Appellants Del-Ray Battery Company and Golden Eagle Battery, Inc. (together, Plaintiffs") and Appellees Douglas Battery Company and Interstate Battery Systems of America, Inc. (together, Defendants) are battery recyclers that sold intact, spent lead acid batteries to a recycling facility in Tecula, Texas until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA") declared the facility a Superfund site and closed it down. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the State's counterpart to the EPA, identified Defendants, among other battery recyclers, as potentially responsible parties and directed them to perform a remedial investigation/feasibility study at the Tecula site. The EPA ultimately paid $4 million in removal and remediation costs to clean up the site, but neither the EPA nor the TCEQ brought suit against any of the battery recyclers to recover the costs of this clean-up.
    The Appeals Court concluded, "It is also clear from case law that CERCLA and the SWDA co-exist as regulatory regimes. See Cooper, 543 U.S. at 166–67 (holding that the portion of § 113(f)(1) cited above 'rebuts any presumption that the express right of
contribution provided by the enabling clause is the exclusive cause of action for contribution available to a [potentially responsible party]'); MSOF Corp. v. Exxon Corp., 295 F.3d 485, 491 (5th Cir. 2002) ('This court and other courts have construed the CERCLA saving clauses in accordance with their plain meanings and have held that they preserve parties' rights arising under state law.'). Because the SREA on its face does not apply to state law causes of action, and because CERCLA does not preempt the SWDA, the district court properly dismissed the remainder of Plaintiffs' claims."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).

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