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GEN. ELEC. ENVIR. SERV. v. ENVIROTECH

March 18, 1991

GENERAL ELECTRIC ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
ENVIROTECH CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rambo, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is defendant Envirotech Corporation's motion to dismiss plaintiff's second cause of action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The motion has been fully briefed and oral argument was held on February 14, 1991. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources ("DER") has filed an amicus curiae brief in support of plaintiff. The motion is therefore ripe for disposition.

Background

According to the complaint of plaintiff General Electric Environmental Services, Inc. ("GEESI"), in 1981 it purchased a facility in Lebanon County from Envirotech Corporation, a facility which GEESI later discovered to be contaminated with PCBs. GEESI alleges that it has thus far spent in excess of $2 million to clean up the site. These facts will be deemed to be true for the purpose of this motion.

In October of 1990, GEESI brought suit against Envirotech on three causes of action: (1) One based on the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. § 9601-9675 ("CERCLA"); (2) One arising from the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, 35 P.S. §§ 6020.101-6020.1305 ("HSCA"); and (3) One grounded in state contract law.

Envirotech's motion to dismiss attacks only the second cause of action, arguing that the HSCA does not create a right of action for private citizens, but only for the Commonwealth and other governmental entities, and thus the statute may not be used to impose liability in a suit between private parties. The court does not agree, and will deny defendant's motion.

Discussion

Concerned with the growing danger to the environment posed by the inadequate and indiscriminate disposal of hazardous wastes in the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1988 crafted remedial legislation in order to add teeth to an existing scheme of laws which had been essentially regulatory in nature.*fn1 As the General Assembly declared in outlining the policy behind the statute:

  Traditional legal remedies have not proved
  adequate for preventing the release of hazardous
  substances into the environment or for preventing
  the contamination of water supplies. It is
  necessary, therefore, to clarify the
  responsibility of persons who own, possess,
  control or dispose of hazardous substances; to
  provide new remedies to protect the citizens of
  this Commonwealth against the release of
  hazardous substances; and to assure the
  replacement of water supplies.

35 Pa.Stat.Ann. § 6020.102(5) (Purdon Supp. 1990). The legislature also provided:

  Extraordinary enforcement remedies and procedures
  are necessary and appropriate to encourage
  responsible persons to clean up hazardous sites
  and to deter persons in possession of hazardous
  substances from careless or haphazard management.

Id. at § 6020.102(9).

In considering whether the HSCA provides private parties with a right of action, the court notes that generally a statute such as the HSCA should be interpreted liberally to allow the full effect of its remedial purpose to be realized. See generally, Chappell v. Pennsylvania Pub. Util. Comm'n, 57 Pa. Commw. 17, 425 A.2d 873, 876 (1981); Commonwealth, Human Relations Comm'n v. Transit Cas. Ins. Co., 478 Pa. 430, 387 A.2d 58, 62-63 (1978).

I. The Language of the HSCA

Plaintiff and the DER argue that sections 1101 and 702 of the HSCA, taken together, create a private cause of action for the recovery of the costs of cleaning a hazardous waste site. Section 1101 creates the remedy, while § 702 defines the scope of liability. Section 1101 reads:

  A release of a hazardous substance or a violation
  of any provision, regulation, order or response
  approved by the Department under this act shall
  constitute a public nuisance. Any person allowing
  such a release or committing such a violation
  shall be liable for the response costs caused by
  the release or the violation. The board and any
  court of competent jurisdiction is hereby given
  jurisdiction over actions to recover response
  costs.

If § 1101 is the tip of the HSCA spear, § 702 determines the statute's targets. In defining the scope of liability ...


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