Before: Honorable Joseph T. Doyle, Judge, Honorable Jim Flaherty, Judge, Honorable Silvestri Silvestri, Senior Judge. Opinion BY Senior Judge Silvestri. Dissenting Opinion BY Judge Doyle.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Silvestri
OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE SILVESTRI
In November of 1995, the Department of Environmental Protection (Department) filed a two Count Complaint in our original jurisdiction against defendants, Delta Chemicals (Delta), Hydrocarbon Refining Corporation (HRC), and the President and owner of both, George Chada. *fn1
Count I of the Complaint is a complaint in equity wherein the Department sought recovery of hazardous waste cleanup costs pursuant to the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA). *fn2 In Count II of the Complaint, the Department sought a Declaratory Judgment regarding liability for future cleanup costs. Before us now are the Department's Motion for Summary Judgment on Count I of the Complaint, and its request for Declaratory Relief under Count II.
Because we believe that the Department should have instituted this action before the Environmental Hearing Board (Board) pursuant to Section 507(a) of the HSCA, *fn3 and because we do not view the Department's Action for Declaratory Judgment as proper, we need not address the merits of the case.
Section 507(a) of the HSCA provides, in its entirety:
(a) General rule.-- A responsible person under section 701 or a person who causes a release or threat of a release of a hazardous substance or causes a public nuisance under this act or causes a release or a substantial threat of release of a contaminant which presents a substantial danger to the public health or safety or the environment, or causes a release or a substantial threat of release of a contaminant which presents a substantial threat of release of a contaminant which presents a substantial danger to the public health or safety or the environment, or causes a release of a nonhazardous substance pursuant to section 501(g) shall be liable for the response costs and for damages to natural resources. The department, a Commonwealth agency, or a municipality which undertakes to abate a public nuisance under this act or take a response action may recover those response costs and natural resource damages in an action in equity brought before a court of competent jurisdiction. In addition, the board is given jurisdiction over actions by the department to recover response costs and damages to natural resources.
As is clear from the foregoing Section, an action in equity in a court of competent jurisdiction may be brought by the Department. Moreover, the Board is specifically given jurisdiction over actions by the Department to recover response costs and damages.
In enacting Section 507(a), it must be assumed that the Legislature, in specifying that the Department could bring an equitable action in relation to its recovery of response costs, was aware of the many differences between legal and equitable actions and the separate Rules of Civil Procedure relating thereto (Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure 1501-1591 relating specifically to Actions in Equity). For example, in equity, a litigant can request that a court prohibit or mandate some action by a particular party, in addition to seeking the recovery of monetary damages. Where, however, monetary damages are the only relief sought by a litigant, the remedy which they seek is a legal remedy.
With this in mind, here, because the Department is not seeking any specific equitable relief, as the only thing sought by the Department is its cleanup costs, i.e., monetary damages, we hold that jurisdiction of this matter is properly with the Board, rather than with this Court.
As noted, Section 507(a) gives the Department the option of bringing an equitable action; however, where, as here, there are no grounds for equitable relief, jurisdiction must be with the Board. Accordingly, since proper jurisdiction rests with the Board and not this Court, we will transfer the Department's action to the Board.
In addition to the foregoing, we hold that Count II of the Department's Complaint seeking a Declaratory Judgment is improper. The HSCA, at Section 507(a), specifically sets forth the method by which the Department can seek its recovery costs, those being either through an equitable action in a court of competent jurisdiction (however, as concluded above, only where equitable relief is also sought) or before the Board. Nowhere in the HSCA is the Department authorized to ...