Apalachicola Riverkeeper v. Taylor Energy Co.
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
954 F. Supp. 2d 448 (2013)
Taylor Energy Company, LLC (Taylor) (defendant) owned oil wells located on a platform 11 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. During a hurricane in 2004, Taylor’s wells became detached from the platform, and the platform and wells sank. Oil began leaking from the site into the Gulf, and Taylor began working with the United States Coast Guard to clean up the spill. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) (plaintiff), along with Apalachicola Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance (collectively, the waterkeepers) (plaintiffs), sued Taylor in federal district court, asserting claims under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). RCRA allowed citizen suits, known as “contributing-to claims,” to enforce certain RCRA provisions against entities that were contributing to the past or present handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal of solid or hazardous wastes that presented an imminent and substantial danger to public health or the environment. LEAN and the waterkeepers alleged that (1) Taylor was the owner and operator of the damaged well and was a past and present generator of hazardous and solid waste (i.e., the discharged oil), (2) the damaged well was a waste-disposal facility for RCRA purposes, (3) Taylor was contributing to the handling and disposal of the discharged oil, (4) the continuing oil discharge into the Gulf had created a visible sheen on the Gulf’s surface and could present an imminent and substantial danger to health or the environment, and (5) the continuing oil discharge had negatively impacted LEAN’s and the waterkeepers’ ability to work and engage in recreation in the Gulf near the discharge site. Taylor moved to dismiss the RCRA claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), asserting that the complaint did not sufficiently allege an imminent threat of harm from the oil spill because the spill was located far offshore and neither LEAN nor the waterkeepers had been directly exposed to the spill site. Taylor also asserted that even if LEAN and the waterkeepers had stated a valid RCRA or CWA claim, the district court should stay the litigation under the primary-jurisdiction doctrine to allow the Coast Guard-led Unified Command to respond to the oil spill.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Morgan, J.)
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