No Arranger Liability For Migration of Contaminated Groundwater

Hobart Corp v Waste Management of Ohio, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148224 (S.D.Ohio 2/10/11) is an obscure decision from 2011 but has some complaint drafting lessons.

This case started off as a classic CERCLA contribution action for a landfill cleanup. The plaintiff entered into a settlement with EPA to perform an RI/FS and then decides to invite other arrangers to the party. The defendants raised the now routine  Twombly pleading argument that the complaint did not sufficiently allege the intent to dispose required by the Supreme Court decision in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry v U.S., 556 U.S. 599 (2009) which the court rejected.

But then the plaintiffs added a claim against adjacent property owners that they had arranged for disposal on their property and then allowed the contaminated groundwater to migrate onto the landfill.  The court asked the plaintiffs if they only intended to assert “arranger” liability and the plaintiffs confirmed. The court found this allegation to be too vague as to the “intent to dispose” hazardous substances on the landfill site,and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss on the “migration” claim.

The plaintiffs could have simply alleged that these parties were owners or operators of the adjacent site where the disposal took place and that the release then migrated to the landfill. It is unclear why the plaintiffs chose to limit their claim to arranger liability

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