Search Site
Menu
Terranova vs. General Electric Pension Trust: Clarifying (or complicating) defenses under the Spill Act

On January 4, 2019, the New Jersey Appellate Division handed down a decision in Terranova vs. General Electric Pension Trust, Docket No. A-5699-16T3 (hereinafter, “Terranova”). In Terranova, The New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed the Trial Court’s grant of Summary Judgment in favor of Defendants.   This suit arises out of a claim under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act (“Spill Act”) against the various named defendants as dischargers liable for contribution towards the cleanup and removal of hazardous substances. N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11 to 23.24. The Defendants each owned the underlying Property prior to the Plaintiff’s ownership of the Property. The Trial Court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment based on a judicial estoppel argument made by Defendants. Judicial Estoppel estops litigants from taking positions contrary to previously taken positions which were either accepted or relied upon by the Court in reaching any judicial determination.  Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed their appeal.

The Appellate Division reviews the granting of summary judgments under a de novo standard and therefore does not afford the trial court’s ruling with any special deference. Templo Fuente De Vida Corp. v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co., 224 N.J. 189, 199 (2016). The decision to invoke judicial estoppel is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. In re Declaration Judgement Actions filed by Various Municipalities, Cty. Of Ocean, 446 N.J. Super. 259, 261 (2016). On appeal, the Plaintiff argued that judicial estoppel should not be applicable to the Spill Act due to the complexities of environmental investigation and the Spill Act does not recognize judicial estoppel as a defense. The Appellate Division rejected these arguments and affirmed the Trial Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants.

The Appellate Division begins by opining that it cannot glean from the record the initial basis for granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment under the principle of judicial estoppel, as it was only referenced in the amended order.  It does not appear that summary judgment was granted on either collateral estoppel or the entire controversy doctrine, as neither was referenced by the Court during its oral decision.  All parties have agreed that the Court’s summary judgment decisions were based on judicial estoppel.  The Appellate Division rejected any argument that judicial estoppel does not apply to the Spill Act.  Relying on the New Jersey Supreme Court Case Morristown Associates v. Grant Oil Company, the New Jersey Appellate Division held the Spill Act does not “deprive a defendant of other unlisted defenses that should presumably be maintained, such as challenges to venue, service of process, and subject matter jurisdiction. Such defenses are established by court rules under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and are not subject to overriding legislation.” Terranova at 9 (quoting Morristown Associates v. Grant Oil Co., 220 N.J. 360 (2015) (Internal citations omitted).  Judicial estoppel is rooted in the judiciary’s interest in protecting the integrity of the judicial process. Therefore, failure to reference the same in the Spill Act does not preclude its application.

Our Attorneys

Recent Twitter Posts

  • New report finds that significant offshore wind capacity exists along the Atlantic coast. https://t.co/EQG8d5VMw2
    3 weeks ago
  • The Murphy Administration plans to spend $200 million on wind port. https://t.co/Se09U5ZHvy
    1 month ago
  • NJDEP aims to simplify permitting process. https://t.co/UTm92DtrAC
    1 month ago
  • U.S. Supreme Court will hear PennEast Pipeline appeal of New Jersey eminent domain dispute. https://t.co/AqqvTw1QD2
    2 months ago

Recent Blog Posts

Environmental remediation timeframes extended again in February 2021 due to COVID-19

Throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, keeping up with deadlines and time frames has been a difficult task for many. The State of New Jersey as well as the New
Read More
Environmental remediation timeframes extended again in February 2021 due to COVID-19

New Jersey Courts Make it Easier for Commercial Landlords to Change the Locks and for Lenders to Foreclose

The COVID pandemic began in March of 2020 and placed many individuals, businesses and mortgage lenders in circumstances which seemingly only ever existed in their wildest dreams. Among those impacted
Read More
New Jersey Courts Make it Easier for Commercial Landlords to Change the Locks and for Lenders to Foreclose

Changes to Phase I Environmental Site Assessment standards may change federal environmental due diligence requirements.

At both the state and federal levels, purchasers of commercial property are required to perform certain environmental investigations in order to shield themselves from liability for contamination found after the
Read More
Changes to Phase I Environmental Site Assessment standards may change federal environmental due diligence requirements.

Appeals Court Critical of Law Firm’s “Scorched Earth” Collected Tactics in Landlord Tenant Case

Law firms hired by landlords in collection actions against tenants can be liable to pay the tenant both statutory penalties and attorneys fees if they use improper collection practices. That’s
Read More
Appeals Court Critical of Law Firm’s “Scorched Earth” Collected Tactics in Landlord Tenant Case

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
  • Dark Waters: How a Class Action Catapulted NJ to Forefront of 'Forever Chemicals' Battle

    NJ Law Journal Jan 09, 2020

    As property owners become increasingly aware of PFAS contamination, and as individuals exposed to PFAS learn of the health risks associated with exposure, liability will likely affect entire supply chains.

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

Quick Contact Form