Home » Case Summaries » 2003 » California ex rel. California Department of Toxic Substances Control v. Campbell

 
 

California ex rel. California Department of Toxic Substances Control v. Campbell

 

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The State of California filed suit against landowners for contamination of groundwater with trichloroethylene (TCE). The landowners in turn sued Louisiana-Pacific Corp. (LP) for contribution. The district court granted summary judgment for LP, holding that the landowners failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact. The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control traced a plume of TCE contamination in groundwater in Chico, California to the property of the landowners, determining that their land was the source of contamination. In an earlier appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the liability of the landowners.[1] On further proceedings in district court to determine damages, the landowners argued that LP, whose property was located on the portion of the plume with the greatest concentration of TCE, was a contributing source of contamination and should contribute towards cleanup. LP argued in turn that the landowners failed to provide evidence sufficient to create liability for LP and filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion.

On appeal, the landowners argued that summary judgment was inappropriate because they provided enough evidence to present a genuine issue of material fact concerning LP’s liability. Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA),[2] the landowner’s claim for contribution had to demonstrate that LP was a member of a class of proper defendants, their site was a facility, there was a release of TCE on the property, and that the release caused damages.[3] LP argued that the landowners failed to demonstrate any genuine issue over whether LP ever released TCE on their property. However, the landowners provided testimony from former LP employees about TCE dumping, and expert testimony about the probability of contamination by LP based on the concentration of the TCE plume and the presence of contaminants that result from TCE degradation. They also offered testimony that the testing on LP’s property was improperly conducted. While the district court dismissed this evidence as too speculative and contradicted by evidence provided by LP, the Ninth Circuit determined that the credibility or weight of the evidence was a matter for the jury, not the judge. Finding that the landowners had offered evidence from which a reasonable jury could find against LP, the Ninth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded to the district court for a determination on whether LP ever released TCE.


[1] California v. Campbell, 138 F.3d 772 (9th Cir. 1998).

[2] Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601-9675 (2000).

[3] See id. § 9613(f) (referring to § 9607(a) which lists the factors of liability).

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