Search Site
Menu
NJ Supreme Court: Environmental Litigation Over Cleanup Cost Allocation May Proceed

 Sets New Environmental Law Precedent

New Jersey’s highest court has ruled that in private contribution claims arising under the Spill Act, “a party determined to be a discharger and held responsible for the cost of cleanup by the DEP is entitled to bring a contribution claim against other potentially responsible parties before the final tally of cleanup costs.” Today’s decision in Magic Petroleum Corp. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., — N.J. — (2014) answered the open question of whether a company (or individual) responsible for cleaning up contaminated property must await state approval of its cleanup plan before suing others also believed to have contributed to the contamination. This was a critical question because the environmental investigation and remediation of a contaminated property can take many years and involve substantial expense. Now, parties engaged in environmental clean ups can rest assured that they may immediately pursue contribution from others who are also responsible for the contamination.

The case before the New Jersey Supreme Court related to the cleanup of a gas station located in Millstone Township, New Jersey. At issue were two adjoining gas stations. One was previously an Exxon station and one was operated by a company called Magic Petroleum. When the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) filed administrative actions against Magic Petroleum to compel the a cleanup of a regional gasoline spill, the company in turn filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court alleging that Exxon Mobil was in fact responsible for most of the cleanup costs. The trial court found that Magic Petroleum’s “contribution” case was premature because the state DEP had not yet approved a final cleanup plan for the site. The trial court believed that allocation of liability between Magic and Exxon would be more accurate if adjudged after the DEP performed its role in overseeing investigation and cleanup. The appellate court, relying on the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, affirmed the dismissal and stated that any party seeking contribution must obtain DEP’s written approval of a cleanup plan for filing a contribution claim.

Property Owners Need Not Wait to Sue Those Responsible for Contamination

In today’s ruling, the State Supreme Court held that a party who incurs cleanup and removal costs may immediately pursue a claim for contribution against other parties responsible for the contamination. This right to pursue contribution lawsuits grows out of the express language of New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act (Spill Act), as well as common law (as codified in the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Law and the Comparative Negligence Act). The court determined that primary jurisdiction was not applicable and that “plaintiff property owners or other responsible parties are permitted to file contribution claims in Superior Court, and a court may allocate liability before the final resolution of a site remediation plan by the DEP.” In finding that a DEP-approved remediation plan was not a prerequisite to filing a contribution claim, the high court noted the distinction between (1) an allocation of liability and (2) the total amount of cleanup costs. While recoverable ‘cleanup and removal costs’ may include only those approved by the DEP, a court may allocate a percentage of responsibility for a particular site. Thus, the court concluded that a “trial court may determine, subject to proofs” whether one or more dischargers are responsible for contamination and “may assign liability to responsible parties, based on evidence presented at trial.”

Today’s decision provides clarification for the regulated community. Those engaged in the often expensive endeavor of investigating and remediating environmental contamination do not need to defer their efforts to obtain contribution from other potentially responsible parties.

 Additional Resources:

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our Attorneys

Recent Twitter Posts

  • State's Tidal Wetlands Could be Swamped by Rising Seas. https://t.co/hoCylgBVyN
    3 weeks ago
  • Scientist finds rare plant last seen in NJ 100 years ago. https://t.co/03jJRVd3cc
    1 month ago
  • NJ is the first state to regulate PFNAs in drinking water. https://t.co/huLEDnc444
    1 month ago
  • Nation's oldest nuclear power plant to shut down permanently Monday. https://t.co/LHSjcNvZVW
    1 month ago

Recent Blog Posts

NJ Supreme Court Sees Standing in Tax Lienholders to Challenge Municipal Approval

On August 2, 2018, New Jersey’s Supreme Court held that a holder of a municipal tax lien may have standing to challenge a local planning board’s approval for a neighboring
Read More
NJ Supreme Court Sees Standing in Tax Lienholders to Challenge Municipal Approval

The Downside to Higher Ground: Appellate Division affirms finding of a townhome owner’s negligence and responsibility for water damage to a below unit caused by a prolonged leaking washing machine hose

On August 1, 2018, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division ruled in favor of plaintiff in the matter captioned Joseph S. D’Elia v. Joyce Campisi and Liberty Mutual
Read More
The Downside to Higher Ground: Appellate Division affirms finding of a townhome owner’s negligence and responsibility for water damage to a below unit caused by a prolonged leaking washing machine hose

United States Supreme Court Tackles Key Clean Water Act Judicial Review Issue

National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, et al. 583 U.S. ____ (2018) Decided January 22, 2018 Since the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the definition of “the waters
Read More
United States Supreme Court Tackles Key Clean Water Act Judicial Review Issue

New Jersey Voters to Decide Important State Constitutional Amendment concerning the Environment

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, New Jersey voters will be asked to decide on a state constitutional amendment regarding the use of natural resource damages collected by the State in
Read More
New Jersey Voters to Decide Important State Constitutional Amendment  concerning the Environment

In the media

  • Gulf Coast Town Center facing foreclosure

    Naples Daily News, September 16, 2015

    Wells Fargo filed a lawsuit Sept. 8 against an affiliate of CBL & Associates, the owners of the decadeold, 1.2 million-square-foot mall in south Fort Myers for a $190.9 million unpaid loan. The center has 94 stores on 204 acres, with such anchors as Super Target, Belk, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshalls and Costco...

    Read More
  • Town liable for private company's leaking underground tanks, court rules

    NJ.com Jul 26, 2017

    CRANFORD -- A couple that owned a businesses in town and became sick from leaking underground tanks owned by an adjacent business can sue the township for damages because the tanks were partially ...

    Read More
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
Contact Our Firm

Quick Contact Form