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Bell Petroleum Services, Inc. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

3 F.3d 889 (1993)

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Bell Petroleum Services, Inc. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

3 F.3d 889 (1993)

Facts

In 1984, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated a chrome-plating shop in Odessa, Texas, as a Superfund site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The designation came after the Texas Water Commission conducted an investigation and found that during the chrome-plating process, finished parts were rinsed and the rinse water was pumped out of the building into the ground. The state of Texas conducted a remedial investigation and found that the only source of groundwater in the area, the Trinity Aquifer, contained elevated concentrations of the hazardous material chromium. Remedial efforts were subsequently undertaken. In 1988, the EPA sought to recover response costs from the operators of the chrome-plating shop. The chrome-plating shop was located on property owned by John Leigh from 1967 to 1981. Leigh conducted chrome-plating activities at the shop in 1971 and 1972. In 1972, Bell Petroleum Services, Inc. (Bell) purchased the assets of the shop and leased the property from Leigh. Bell conducted similar, more extensive chrome-plating activities on the property until 1976. In 1976, Sequa Corporation (Sequa) purchased Bell’s shop assets and leased the property from Leigh. Sequa conducted similar chrome-plating activities until 1977. The EPA filed a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) cost-recovery action in district court against Leigh, Bell, and Sequa (operators) (defendants). The EPA argued that the harm to the Trinity Aquifer could not be apportioned because it was a single harm that was indivisible and required the imposition of joint and several liability. The district court agreed and found Leigh, Bell, and Sequa jointly and severally liable. The district court rejected volume as a basis for apportionment because the proposed apportionment methods were highly speculative due to records being lost and competing theories of apportionment. Sequa appealed, arguing that it was erroneously required to prove a certain basis for apportionment rather than a reasonable basis. Sequa pointed to testimony from various witnesses regarding the wastewater disposal practices and amount of chrome-plating activity conducted by each shop operator and expert testimonies of using different volumetric approaches to calculate the total amount of chromium released by each operator.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Jolly, J.)

Dissent (Parker, J.)

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