February 14th, 2022

Litigation Team Wins Environmental Law Civil Suit

Environmental law is a complex amalgam of legislation and regulation overseen by agencies at the state and federal levels. The overarching purpose of these overlapping schemes is to remedy and prevent harmful impacts to our planet caused by the activities of man. Businesses and individuals can, and often do, find themselves responsible for expensive cleanup and remediation for contamination that may have existed for decades and which they may not have caused. Getting knowledgeable counsel involved early in the process is often critical to managing risk and exposure. Recently, Gross McGinley successfully defended a New Jersey scrap yard owner in a multi-year environmental discharge and remediation suit. Read on to learn about the complexities of environmental law cases, and how our litigation team helps businesses navigate this ever-evolving and complex legal landscape.

Overview of the environmental civil action suit

The suit, brought by the new purchaser of a historically contaminated industrial property, claimed the neighboring scrapyard was responsible for discharging Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) into the soil on its property. PCBs, organic chlorine compounds, were widely used in electrical equipment like capacitors and transformers for decades and it is estimated that the US produced some 1.5 billion pounds of these chemicals. PCBs are harmful at even very low levels and have the ability to introduce toxicity up the food chain. PCBs have been linked to cancer, birth defects, reproductive dysfunction, growth impairment, behavioral changes, hormonal imbalances, and damage to the developing brain. PCBs were banned in the U.S. in 1979 but remain present in our soil and water throughout the country. The requirements for remediation and cleanup of PCBs vary in degree and expense depending on the level of contamination, the recommendations of Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRPs), and the oversight of the various agencies that evaluate and approve such cleanup. In this case, the Plaintiff property owner relied on the civil enforcement provisions of the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act (“Spill Act”), to bring a claim for over $440,000 against the scrap yard operator to cover past and future remediation costs.

Keeping to the letter of the environmental law

This Plaintiff purchased a historically compromised industrial property, which had been partially remediated for a variety of contaminants, including heavy metals and other by-products of the many uses of the land over the past half a century.

The Plaintiff retained an LSRP to continue the evaluation and testing over the nearly six-acre property. In doing so, the LSRP discovered the presence of PCBs, which were primarily located in an area previously leased by the scrap yard and an unrelated predecessor scrap yard since the 1950s. Plaintiff sued the present scrap yard for the past and future remediation costs.

The case culminated in a multi-day trial before a New Jersey Superior Court Judge. The court found that the Plaintiff failed to meet its burden of proof to show that the operations of the scrap yard were responsible for the PCB contamination.  How did Gross McGinley’s team help build this case? The scrapyard owner and their own environmental expert were able to show meticulous records of their policies and processes. These documents reinforced how the scrap yard disallowed materials that could contain fluids responsible for PCB contamination, as reinforced by environmental inspection records. Having circumstantial evidence at best, Plaintiff and their counsel could not overcome the credible evidence that led the court to believe that it was more likely than not that the contamination was introduced into the soil by parties other than the scrap yard.

Legal guidance and experience in environmental lawsuits

Gross McGinley’s ability to navigate the constantly changing legal landscape for environmental matters is what won the case in favor of the client.

Congratulations to litigators Adrian Cousens, Sam Cohen, and Sarah Hart Charette for their environmental law win. Our attorneys are dedicated to providing thoughtful and well-crafted legal solutions and strategies. As litigators, they strive to stay on the cutting edge of new legal, legislative, and business protocol developments to deliver the best possible outlooks for their clients.

From regulatory compliance, planning, remediation, and litigation, Gross McGinley is the go-to source for your business’s Environmental Law needs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.