SACRAMENTO, Calif., July 29, 2011 – Texas-based litigation firm Hicks Thomas LLP won an important ruling in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals this week when the court delivered an “arranger” liability opinion under CERCLA, the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
The case, Team Enterprises, LLC v. Western Investment Real Estate Trust, involved a dry cleaning operator in Modesto, California, that sued a Naperville, Illinois-based company R.R. Street under California common law and CERCLA.
According to the suit, R.R. Street manufactured equipment used to recycle and filter a chemical commonly used in the dry cleaning industry, PERC (perchloroethylene). According to Team Enterprises, R.R. Street allegedly created a product that failed to dispose of waste properly, leaking hazardous contaminants into groundwater and soil.
Hicks Thomas LLP attorney Eric Grant, joined by partner John Thomas in the brief, argued the case before the Ninth Circuit, obtaining a favorable opinion from U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. The court granted Hicks Thomas LLP’s motion for a summary judgement, effectively dismissing all claims against R.R. Street.
According to the court, Team Enterprises was unable to prove that R.R. Street intended to dispose of the hazardous waste.
The court issued the ruling on July 26, 2011, marking the first CERCLA arranger liability decision from the Ninth Circuit since the landmark Burlington Northern & S.F. R. Co. v. United States decision. With the Team Enterprises ruling, the court confirmed the trial court’s decision that companies selling products that generate hazardous waste are not liable under CERCLA unless the plaintiff proves the defendant intended to eliminate the hazardous materials.
Mr. Grant said, “We are very pleased with the court’s ruling. We believe that the standard articulated by the Ninth Circuit is fully consistent with Burlington Northern and should give guidance to trial courts that are hearing similar claims.”