Compliance with federal and state environmental statutes and regulations is a complicated and perilous task for even the most conscientious firm, and especially for those firms in the natural resources, chemical, and industrial sectors. With unfortunate and increasing frequency, businesses are finding themselves the targets of lawsuits claiming violations of environmental laws, from federal statutes like CERCLA and RCRA to state common-law doctrines of nuisance and trespass. When you are a target of such assertions, you need a law firm that has successfully served client litigation needs in a broad range of matters in the environmental field.
That firm is Hicks Thomas LLP: Our experience includes acting as national litigation counsel, both trial and appellate, for distributors and manufacturers of both chemical and industrial products, together with oil and gas producers. We have defended lawsuits involving more than 4,500 claims of personal injury and property damage in California, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, and Texas. Claimants have included individuals, businesses, municipalities, and public and private water purveyors. As national counsel, we not only direct the defense of this litigation at a high level, we also take a lead role in the actual trial and appeal of each case.
One of the hallmarks of Hicks Thomas is that our Houston environmental litigation lawyers are experienced in trial. Collectively, our environmental litigation lawyers in Houston have tried hundreds of jury trials, bench trials, and arbitrations. We emphasize this experience because no client can afford a litigation team that is afraid to bring a case to trial. Moreover, we believe that our opponents know who we are and what we do, and that such awareness of our capabilities can help settle cases favorably. Finally, in a time when fewer and fewer cases actually reach trial, a client with an experienced trial team has a competitive advantage.
Track Record of Success
Our successes on behalf of clients in environmental litigation include:
- City of Modesto Redevelopment Agency v. Dow Chemical Co. , San Francisco (California) Superior Court (1998-2012): Over the course of more than a decade in this complex, multi-party environmental contamination action, the Hicks Thomas team took and defended hundreds of depositions, produced and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents, and conducted no fewer than five trials — two jury trials of longer than six months each, together with three multi-week bench trials. The result of our efforts was a decisive victory for our client, a national distributor of dry cleaning products: the plaintiffs were ordered to pay the client more than $300,000 in net costs. The matter is on appeal, where Hicks Thomas is lead counsel in defending the costs awarded to five separately-represented defendants.
- Suffolk County Water Authority v. Dow Chemical Co. , Suffolk County (New York) Supreme Court (2010-present): This action by a public water agency against some two dozen defendants sought damages for chemical contamination of more than 200 drinking water wells. Hicks Thomas took the lead in developing the massive and detailed factual record supporting a motion for summary judgment on behalf of our client and other defendants. The trial court denied that motion, but the appellate court — relying in crucial part on the factual record — ruled that the motion should have been granted, and the plaintiff's complaint dismissed, as to 151 of the 158 remaining wells. See No. 2012-07097, 2014 WL 3608520 (N.Y. App. Div. July 23, 2014).
- Team Enterprises, LLC v. Western Investment Real Estate Trust , U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (2009-2010); Hinds Investments, L.P. v. Team Enterprises, Inc., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (2009-2010); and KFD Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Eureka, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (2009-2011): In all three of these federal environmental actions, Hicks Thomas obtained complete dismissals of all of the plaintiffs' claims against our clients. All of these victories were achieved well before trial, and one even before discovery commenced.
- IP Investments, L.L.C. v. Velsicol Chemical LLC , United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas (2013-2014): On behalf of the owner of contaminated industrial property, Hicks Thomas initiated this action to recover the cost of remediating the property under both federal and Texas law. On the eve of trial, the matter settlement favorably, our client receiving a payment sufficient to complete the remediation and emerge with a valuable industrial park free of environmental liabilities.
Setting Notable Legal Precedents
Our efforts in the environmental field have established favorable law for our clients:
- R.R. Street & Co. Inc. v. Pilgrim Enterprises, Inc. , 166 S.W.3d 232 (Tex. 2005) (holding that the mere provision of advice regarding the disposal of hazardous waste does not render a person liable as one who "arranges" to dispose of solid waste, and that a person does not become "responsible" for solid waste merely by recommending and selling equipment that later generates such waste).
- R.R. Street & Co. Inc. v. Vulcan Materials Co. , 569 F.3d 711 (7th Cir. 2009) (holding that federal district courts must adjudicate claims for breaches of agreements to defend or indemnify persons subjected to environmental lawsuits).
- Team Enterprises, LLC v. Western Investment Real Estate Trust , 647 F.3d 901 (9th Cir. 2011) (establishing that manufacturers of equipment are generally not liable under CERCLA or for nuisance or trespass for environmental contamination resulting from the disposal of hazardous waste by purchasers of such equipment).
- Hinds Investments, L.P. v. Angioli , 654 F.3d 846 (9th Cir. 2011) (establishing a similar principle of non-liability under RCRA).
- Suffolk County Water Authority v. Dow Chemical Co. , No. 2012-07097, 2014 WL 3608520 (N.Y. App. Div. July 23, 2014) (holding that claims for environmental contamination that would otherwise be barred by the applicable statute of limitations may not be revived by either the so-called "continuous wrong exception" or the so-called "two-injury rule").
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