Friday, February 3, 2012

Emergency Services Billing v. Allstate Insurance Co.

Feb 2: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, Case No. 11-2381. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division at Lafayette. The appeal concerns the interpretation of the phrase "consumer product in consumer use" in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Plaintiff-appellant, Emergency Services Billing Corporation (ESBC), is the billing agent for the Volunteer Fire Department of Westville (Fire Department), a town in central Indiana. ESBC brought the action against individuals who were involved in motor vehicle accidents and the insurance companies that represent those individuals.
    Under CERCLA, the owner of a "facility" from which hazardous substances have been released is responsible for the response costs that result from the release. ESBC believes that personally owned motor vehicles fall within the definition of "facilities" under CERCLA. Thus, ESBC charged the individual defendants, and therefore the insurance company defendants, with the response costs relating to their respective car accidents. Defendants argue that personal motor vehicles fall under CERCLA's "consumer product in consumer use" exception to the definition of "facilities," and they have refused to pay ESBC for the response costs.
    ESBC has asked for declaratory relief in the form of a confirmation of the defendants' liability under CERCLA. The district court held that motor vehicles for personal use do, in fact, fall under the "consumer product in consumer use" exception to CERCLA's definition of facility, and that defendants cannot be charged with the Fire Department's costs for responding to the car accidents. ESBC appealed, challenging the district court's interpretation of CERCLA. For the following reasons, however, the Appeals Court affirm the district court's dismissal of ESBC's suit.
    The Appeals Court concluded, "CERCLA's "consumer product" exemption from the term 'facilities' cannot reasonably be read to exclude personally-owned, personally-operated motor vehicles. The language of CERCLA is clear on its face, and a look into CERCLA's legislative history, the term "consumer product" as it is used in other statutes, and the EPA's interpretation of the term only confirms our conclusion. We therefore affirm the district court's dismissal of ESBC's suit for declaratory relief."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Remed, #CA7]
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