United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
J. PAPPERT, J.
Giovanni and Palmer families live in neighborhoods near
facilities that were owned and operated by the United States
Navy. After discovering that chemicals from the facilities
infiltrated their water supply, Plaintiffs sued the Navy
under Pennsylvania's Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act. The
Navy has filed a Motion to Dismiss and one issue in the
briefing turns on whether certain perfluorochemicals are
considered “hazardous substances” under HSCA.
With that motion pending, the Navy now moves to stay the case
for six months while the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and
federal government consider listing perfluorooctane sulfonate
(“PFOS”) and perfluorooctanoic acid
(“PFOA”) as hazardous substances under their
respective authorities. For the reasons discussed below, the
Court denies the Motion to Stay.
Kristen Giovanni and Dorothy Palmer first filed suit in 2016
seeking relief under HSCA for the Navy's alleged improper
disposal of contaminants and hazardous substances at its
facilities. The Court previously dismissed the suits for lack
of jurisdiction. (Mem. Op. July 6, 2017, ECF No. 22.) On
appeal, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part
and vacated and remanded in part the Court's decision.
Giovanni v. U.S. Dep't of Navy, 906 F.3d 94 (3d
Cir. 2018). Plaintiffs then filed a Consolidated Complaint,
(ECF No. 41), and in response, the Navy filed a Motion to
Dismiss, which is currently pending before the Court. (ECF
No. 43.) Among other things, the Motion to Dismiss argues
that Plaintiffs' Consolidated Complaint fails to state a
claim for relief because neither PFOS and PFOA are defined as
hazardous substances under HSCA. (Def's. Mot. to Dismiss
23-25, ECF No. 43.) Plaintiffs contend that both substances
fall within HSCA's statutory definition of a hazardous
substance, but even if the Court were to conclude otherwise,
federal and/or state classification of PFOS and PFOA as
hazardous substances “appears imminent.”
(Pls.' Resp. Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss 21-22, ECF No.
Court has the inherent power to control its docket and
incidental to this authority is the power to stay
proceedings. Bechtel Corp. v. Local 215, Laborers'
Int'l Union, 544 F.2d 1207, 1215 (3d Cir.
1976). The power to stay proceedings, however, is
extraordinary, disfavored, and requires the “exercise
of judgment” and the “weigh[ing] [of] competing
interests and maintain[ing] an even balance.”
Id. (quoting Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S.
248, 254-55 (1936)). The party moving to stay the case
“bears the burden of proof . . . and ‘must make
out a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to
go forward.'” Hicks v. Swanhart, 2012 WL
6152901 (D.N.J. Dec. 10, 2012) (quoting Landis, 299
U.S. at 255). In considering whether to grant a motion to
stay, the Court must consider: “(1) whether a stay will
simplify the issues and promote judicial economy; (2) the
balance of the harm to the parties; and (3) the length of the
requested stay.” Smithkline v. Beecham Corp. v.
Apotex Corp., 2004 WL 1615307 (E.D. Pa. July 16, 2004)
(citing Cheyney State Coll. Faculty v. Hufstedler,
703 F.2d 732, 737-38 (3d Cir. 1983)).
Navy contends that the “requested stay could
substantially narrow the matters to be decided by the Court
and avoid needless and duplicative litigation in this
case.” (Def.'s Mot. to Stay 1, ECF No. 46.) The
Navy's arguments depend on either the state or federal
government actually implementing a law or regulation that
would classify PFOA and/or PFOS as hazardous substances.
First, the Navy claims that staying the case could moot the
hazardous substance issue from its Motion to Dismiss if
either the federal or state government classifies PFOA or
PFOS as such. (Id. ¶ 3.) Second, a stay would
save the Court judicial resources and prevent inefficiency in
the event that the Motion to Dismiss would need to be
relitigated. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.) And third, the
Navy suggests that a stay would save both parties time, money
and resources by avoiding the potential of having to
relitigate the hazardous substance issue. (Id.
response, Plaintiffs argue that there is no good reason to
stay the case. (Pls.' Resp. Opp'n Mot. to Stay ¶
5, ECF No. 48.) They acknowledge that judicial economy is a
consideration for the Court, but submit that the interests of
individuals affected by the contamination should take
precedence. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiffs point out
that this case has been pending for three years, and in their
perspective, a stay will only prolong the Navy's
avoidance of accountability in this litigation. (Id.
¶¶ 20-21.) Finally, Plaintiffs concede that they
have no way of knowing with any certainty when, or if, the
state or federal government will designate PFOS and PFOA as
hazardous substances. (Id. ¶ 19.)
have the better argument and the Court declines to stay the
case. The Navy has failed to demonstrate a clear case of
hardship or inequity, and the Court is not convinced that a
stay will simplify the issues or promote judicial economy.
See Hicks, 2012 WL 6152901, at *2. Neither the
parties nor the Court can know with any certainty whether the
Commonwealth or the federal government will designate PFOS or
PFOA as a hazardous substance within six months. Moreover,
the Navy presents no claims of hardship or inconvenience
sufficiently persuasive to overcome Plaintiffs' interest
in a just and speedy adjudication of the case. Although the
parties may incur additional expenses should there be a
relevant law or ...