Thus, unlike the negligence of any other owner/operator, the negligence of the United States Government (in this case, the Forest Service) does not shield Quaker State from liability as a culpable third party. Indeed, the Act has specifically carved this out as an exception. Even if all the allegations of Forest Service negligence are true, if the government proves that Quaker State in some measure contributed to the discharge, Quaker State is liable for the costs of cleanup.
If this result seems harsh, it is nonetheless consistent with the structure and purpose of the Act. Third party liability is narrow, and is ordinarily extinguished by the liability of a culpable owner/operator, but Congress clearly stated its intention to excuse the contributory negligence of the United States to hold the culpable private party liable. In this way, Congress ensures that someone in the industry, whether owner/operator or third party, will be liable for the costs of cleanup.
Our decision today makes the issue of the Forest Service's negligence irrelevant. The salient issues remaining for trial on liability are a) was there a discharge, and b) was it caused by an act or omission of Quaker State, either alone, or in concert with an act of God, act of war or negligence of the United States Government. In this regard, we note that to prevail the government need not prove negligence on the part of Quaker State. The culpable third party is liable for his conduct "without regard to whether any such act or omission was or was not negligent." 33 U.S.C. § 1321(f)(2).
This matter is now ripe for trial on the issue of liability. A Pretrial Conference and trial date will be scheduled at a later date. Issues concerning damages, and discovery on such matters, are deferred until after a determination on liability. An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
AND NOW, in accord with this accompanying Opinion, it is hereby ORDERED that Quaker State's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED. This matter is ripe for trial on liability and a Pretrial Conference will be scheduled at a later date. Discovery and trial on issues of damages are deferred until after a determination on liability.
So ORDERED this day of July, 1989.
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