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Scarinci Hollenbeck Attorneys Win Environmental Cost Recovery Case


July 12, 2016
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John Scagnelli and William Sullivan of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Environmental Land Use Group Secure Significant Victory in CERCLA and Spill Act Environmental Clean-Up Liability Suit

Scarinci Hollenbeck has announced a significant victory for its client, the Estate of Vernon G. Browne, in a Florida federal court CERCLA and New Jersey Spill Act environmental cost recovery case.  The matter was handled by John M. Scagnelli, Chair of the Environmental and Land Use Law Group, and by William Sullivan, a member of the group.

SCARINCI HOLLENBECK ATTORNEYS WIN ENVIRONMENTAL COST RECOVERY CASEThe plaintiffs in this case, Virginia Street Fidelco, LLC and City of Newark New Jersey v. Estate of Vernon G. Browne, alleged that the Estate, as successor to Vernon G. Browne, was liable for the cost of remediating environmental contamination at a property formerly owned by Orbis Corporation at 55 Virginia Street in Newark, New Jersey. Plaintiffs’ claims were brought under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (as amended by the Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act of 1986), the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act (“the Spill Act”), and New Jersey statutory and common law.

Defendant Vernon G. Browne was a financial and administrative Vice President and a Director of Orbis Corporation’s parent company Norda, Inc.  Plaintiffs alleged that Mr. Browne was personally liable for the costs of remediation at the Orbis Newark Property because he had directly participated in the management and control of Orbis during the years the alleged environmental violations had occurred at the property.

The Court determined that Plaintiffs had failed to present any evidence that Mr. Browne (i) had any personal knowledge of the physical conditions or operations at the Orbis Newark plant, (ii) that he actually participated in operating the plant or in activities resulting in the disposal of hazardous substances at the property, or (iii) that he actually exercised control or was involved in Orbis’ operations. The Court accordingly found that Mr. Browne was not liable under CERCLA, the New Jersey Spill Act, and New Jersey statutory and common law.

The Court also rejected the expert testimony of Plaintiffs’ expert Richard Greenberg relating to the cost of remediation of the environmental contamination, finding it to be speculative and lacking in foundation.  The court noted that Mr. Greenberg did not conduct any independent analysis or work at the property, that he made mistakes in his expert report regarding the location of buildings and whether they were still standing, and acknowledged that he did not know the locations on the property where the prior consultant had collected soil samples.  

Moreover, he was unable to confirm where on the property the prior consultant had found environmental contamination which needed to be remediated.

Mr. Scagnelli explained that “The decision is particularly noteworthy because the Court held that, to recover response costs under CERCLA Section 107, Plaintiffs needed to show that they had incurred necessary response costs, which the Court found Plaintiffs had also failed to do. The Court further held that to impose personal, individual liability for the clean-up costs under the New Jersey Spill Act on employees or officers of companies responsible for a discharge, evidence needed to be presented which justified piercing the corporate veil, which Plaintiffs also failed to do.”

About John Scagnelli: 
John M. Scagnelli’s (jscagnelli@sh-law.com) environmental law practice encompasses the entire environmental law field, including environmental compliance, environmental litigation, environmental auditing, environmental permitting and environmental counseling. He serves as environmental counsel for banks and lending institutions, commercial and industrial companies, states and municipalities, real estate development organizations, and other organizations. His environmental work includes remediation projects and litigation relating to state environmental statutes.

About William Sullivan:
William Sullivan (wsullivan@sh-law.com) concentrates his practice in the areas of environmental law, land use law, redevelopment law and renewable energy law. Mr. Sullivan’s practice includes the representation of clients with respect to a wide variety of land use and redevelopment projects, energy infrastructure projects, environmental permitting and compliance, site remediation, and related litigation. He has represented private developers on significant development and redevelopment projects throughout northern New Jersey, in communities such as Hackensack, Ridgefield, Teterboro, Harrison, Kearny, Newark and the Oranges.

About the Scarinci Hollenbeck Environmental and Land Use Litigation Group:
Scarinci Hollenbeck’s environmental and land use attorneys have significant experience in representing clients in environmental lawsuits in federal and state courts and in proceedings before administrative agency tribunals. They are proficient at handing broad spectrum of environmental contamination and toxic tort claims, including remediation and litigation under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) and the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act. They have been involved in the development/redevelopment of industrial and commercial properties, brownfields redevelopment and energy and transportation infrastructure projects in New Jersey and throughout the New York Metropolitan area. Our clients, coming to us from a broad range of industry groups, rely on our attorneys to provide them with innovative and strategic solutions to their most pressing environmental and land use issues.