Hicks Thomas LLP Defeats Polanco Act Claim In California Water Contamination Case

SAN FRANCISCO — Attorneys from Houston-based Hicks Thomas LLP this week obtained a favorable ruling for Naperville, Ill.-based R.R. Street & Co. Inc. in the final stage of the long-running environmental contamination litigation against the dry cleaning chemical and equipment industry.

Beginning in 1998, the City of Modesto, Calif., and the Modesto Redevelopment Agency sued R.R. Street, Dow Chemical Company, PPG Industries and other chemical manufacturers and dry cleaning companies. The city claimed the companies improperly distributed the chemical perchloroethylene (PERC), which allegedly contaminated soil and underground water at several local dry cleaner sites.

The most recent phase of lawsuit involved claims under the Polanco Redevelopment Act, which details the steps that redevelopment agencies must follow in handling potentially contaminated sites. The city claimed it was entitled to actual damages and injunctive and equitable relief related to the Modesto Steam dry cleaner site.

In a Nov. 14, 2011 ruling in City of Modesto, et al. v. The Dow Chemical Company, et al., Nos. CGC-98- 999345 and CGC-98-999643, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith rejected all of Modesto’s claims against R.R. Street for the Modesto Steam site and denied all relief.

In the decision, Judge Goldsmith found that the city’s expert on contamination and remediation relied on old data in determining the extent of possible water contamination. The court found that much of Dr. Stephen Wheatcraft’s opinion was “not based on site-specific or current data, but on his experience with thousands of other allegedly similar situations.” The court further found that with respect to soil remediation, “defendants have shown and plaintiffs concede that remediation is virtually complete.”

In multiple trials spanning more than a decade, R.R. Street received numerous favorable court rulings and a take-nothing defense verdict that totally exonerated the company in one case. In the most recent decision, Judge Goldsmith found that R.R. Street owes nothing for any potential damages.

“This has been a long road for everyone involved,” says John Thomas, a Hicks Thomas partner and R.R. Street’s lead counsel. “We are very pleased with the result and are happy that our client has been vindicated in this case.”