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United States v. Sunoco

June 10, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF,
v.
SUNOCO, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

The United States has filed suit against defendants Atlantic Richfield Company, et al. ("AR") and Sunoco, et al. ("Sunoco") under the Pennsylvania Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act, 35 Pa. C. S. § 6021.101, et seq., ("Tank Act"),*fn1 the Pennsylvania Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, 42 Pa. C. S. §§ 8321-8327 ("UCATA"), and the federal Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). The United States also makes a claim against Sunoco under the Clean Streams Act, 35 Pa. Stat. § 691.401 ("CSA"). In this opinion, I address Sunoco's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Successorship (Doc. #199, filed under seal) and the United States' Renewal of their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Successorship (Doc. #214). I will grant Sunoco's motion and deny the motion of the United States.

The suit concerns petroleum pollution ("the Plume") allegedly emanating from a section of a South Philadelphia refinery known as the Point Breeze Processing Area ("Point Breeze").

¶ 8.*fn2 Point Breeze is currently owned by defendant Sunoco (formerly "Sun Company," or "Sun") and was previously owned by defendant AR. ¶ 4, ¶ 9. The Plume migrated underground from Point Breeze and contaminated a nearby United States property called the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia ("DSCP property"). ¶ 11-14; 17-44. Pollution is still migrating from Point Breeze to the DSCP property. ¶ 47.

The United States detected the Plume in 1987 on the DSCP property and notified the predecessor agency of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ("PADEP") of violations of state environmental regulations. ¶ 17. The United States first thought that the Plume came from a leaking fuel line of its own, but came to believe that the Plume originated mostly from Point Breeze. ¶ 17-44. In 1996, the United States and Sunoco entered into a Consent Order and Agreement ("The 1996 COA") with PADEP to remediate the Plume together.

¶ 31. In 1999, following two years of arbitration, PADEP issued a Unilateral Administrative Order ("The 1999 UAO") requiring the United States to assume sole responsibility for the remediation. ¶ 40, U.S. Ex. 13. PADEP deemed the United States liable and ordered it to remediate the Plume alone. ¶ 40. The UAO was appealed by the United States to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB), which upheld the agency action. Id. The United States also sought review of the UAO in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. ¶ 42. Those matters settled with an agreement that the United States and PADEP would resolve future disagreements about the site through mutually agreeable dispute resolution. ¶ 42. Pursuant to the UAO, the United States has been remediating the Plume and anticipates that future remediation will be required. ¶ 43-44. It has already spent $22,000,000 on remediation. ¶ 75.

II. Background Relevant to Successorship

In 1985, AR conveyed Point Breeze to Atlantic Petroleum Corporation, which then conveyed Point Breeze to Sunoco in 1988. On December 16, 1992, Sunoco and AR*fn3 entered into a settlement agreement (the "settlement agreement") to resolve two lawsuits*fn4. The United States previously moved this Court to adjudicate that the unambiguous language of the settlement agreement establishes that Sunoco and AR are legal successors for the purposes of the United States' claims associated with the cleanup of the Plume (Doc. #58)*fn5. I found that the settlement agreement does not unambiguously establish successorship, but denied the United States' motion without prejudice to renew with reference to extrinsic evidence (Doc. #118). At that time I was not asked by Sunoco to rule on whether the terms of the settlement agreement are unambiguous in that they do not establish successor liability. Sunoco claims that there is no need to consider any extrinsic evidence because nothing in the settlement agreement itself supports the claim that Sunoco is AR's legal successor. (Sunoco's Mot. for Partial Summ. J. on Successorship).

The settlement agreement arose out of a disagreement between AR and Sunoco regarding their respective responsibility for contamination of "assets" sold under two purchase and sales agreements. (Settlement agreement, 1). In order to settle their dispute, AR paid Sunoco $72,000,000 in exchange for Sunoco's promise to:

[C]onduct, at its sole cost and expense, any off-site recovery or remediation of Contamination related to the Assets which may be required by any law, regulation, order, judgment or settlement agreement; and shall defend and hold ARCO harmless from any claims, orders, judgments, or other attempts to require ARCO to undertake or be responsible for any off-site recovery or remediation of Contamination related to the Assets...

Settlement agreement, ¶ 5.

The United States contends that this creates successor liability. In addition to the paragraph quoted above, the United States also relies on the following language to support its claim that the settlement agreement establishes successor liability:

Except as may be necessary to raise a defense to a claim for remediation which has been assumed by a party by the terms of this Settlement Agreement, the Parties mutually agree that the terms of ...


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