Courtland Co. v. Union Carbide Corp.

Decision Date26 August 2020
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 2:19-cv-00894
PartiesTHE COURTLAND COMPANY, INC., a West Virginia Business Corporation, Plaintiff, v. UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION, a New York Corporation, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of West Virginia

Pending is the defendant's motion to dismiss, filed on January 28, 2020 (ECF No. 9).

I. Background

The plaintiff, Courtland Company, Inc. ("Courtland"), initiated this action on December 13, 2019 alleging federal and state-law claims against the defendant, Union Carbide Corporation ("UCC"), for environmental pollution. See ECF No. 1 ("Compl.").

Courtland and UCC are both corporations that own property in Kanawha County, West Virginia. See id. ¶¶ 5-6. UCC owns two parcels of land adjacent to Courtland's property: a rail yard and a landfill site.1 Id. ¶¶ 1, 14. UCC's rail yard ("UCC Railyard") has allegedly stored onsite hazardous and toxic chemicals beginning "[n]o later than 1971," and such chemicals have allegedly "leach[ed] into the environment, including soils, surface waters - including Davis Creek and/or Kanawha River -- and groundwater underlying Plaintiff's property." See id. ¶¶ 1, 6. UCC allegedly accepted solid wastes, hazardous wastes, and other hazardous substances for disposal at the landfill ("Filmont Landfill") from the 1950's through the 1980's, including waste from the UCC South Charleston chemical manufacturing facility, bottom-ash from two UCC South Charleston facility power plants, and wastewater treatment plant grit from the UCC South Charleston Wastewater Treatment Plant. See id. ¶¶ 6, 17-18, 22. The Filmont Landfill allegedly fails to comply with applicable state and federal laws, and hazardous wastes and other hazardous substances from the property have allegedly "leached and continue to leach to soils, groundwater, and surface waters - including the [sic] Davis Creek and/or the Kanawha River -- in further violation of applicable state and federal law." See id. ¶ 1. Courtland alleges that the FilmontLandfill remains an "illegal open dump"2 owned, operated, and maintained by UCC in violation of federal and state laws because UCC never properly closed the landfill in accordance with applicable laws. See id.

Courtland alleges that the "release of toxic, noxious, harmful and hazardous contaminants into the environment" from the two UCC properties has caused actual damage to the environment; presents an imminent and substantial endangerment to the environment and human health; is an invasion of Courtland's right to the safe and comfortable use and enjoyment of its property; and is a serious public nuisance. See id. ¶ 1. Courtland further alleges that UCC has intentionally hidden the pollution from Courtland, federal and state regulatory agencies, and the public at large. See id.

Courtland alleges ten (10) causes of action. Count I seeks to recover "response costs" for addressing releases of hazardous substances from the UCC properties, pursuant to Section 107(a) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 ("CERCLA"), 42 U.S.C.§ 9607(a). See id. ¶¶ 2, 58-66. Count I is not the subject of the motion to dismiss.

Count II seeks injunctive relief pursuant to Section 7002(a)(1)(A) of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 ("RCRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(A), to compel compliance with RCRA and to redress the consequences of alleged past and on-going violations of RCRA, and civil penalties to be paid to the United States to redress the consequences of the alleged past and ongoing violations. See id. ¶¶ 2, 67-81. Count III seeks judicial abatement of the imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and the environment caused by the solid wastes and hazardous wastes at and emanating from the UCC properties, pursuant to Section 7002(a)(1)(B) of RCRA, 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B). See id. ¶¶ 2, 82-88.

The remaining counts are framed under state law. Count IV seeks judicial abatement of the ongoing public nuisance, see id. ¶¶ 2, 89-97; and Count V seeks judicial abatement of the ongoing public nuisance per se, see id. ¶¶ 2, 98-107. Counts VI to X seek damages, including an award of punitive damages, under the laws of private nuisance, negligence, negligence per se, gross negligence, and strict liability, for the harms to Courtland's property and propertyrights, including the loss of reasonable use and enjoyment, and the loss of property value.3 See id. ¶¶ 2, 108-34.

The defendant filed its motion to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) on January 28, 2020. The motion is fully briefed.4

II. Legal Standards
A. Rule 12(b)(1)

Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a defendant to challenge a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Federaldistrict courts are courts of limited subject matter jurisdiction, possessing "only the jurisdiction authorized them by the United States Constitution and by federal statute." U.S. ex rel. Vuyyuru v. Jadhav, 555 F.3d 337, 347 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005)). There is no presumption that a federal district court has jurisdiction." Pinkley, Inc. v. City of Frederick, 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999). The facts essential to show jurisdiction must be affirmatively alleged in the complaint. Dracos v. Hellenic Lines, Ltd., 762 F.2d 348, 350 (4th Cir. 1985).

An objection that a federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction may be raised by a party, or by the court sua sponte, at any stage in the litigation. Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506 (2006). If subject matter jurisdiction is lacking at any point in litigation, the claim must be dismissed. Id. When a defendant challenges the existence of subject matter jurisdiction under a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that subject matter jurisdiction exists. Jadhav, 555 F.3d at 347. When a defendant challenges subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), "the district court is to regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outsidethe pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment." Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991)). The district court should grant the Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss "only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law." Id. (citing Richmond, 945 F.2d at 768).

B. Rule 12(b)(6)

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a pleader provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) correspondingly permits a defendant to challenge a complaint when it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of a complaint. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999).

Specific facts are not necessary in a pleading, "but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The pleading "must give the defendant fair notice ofwhat the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Id. at 555 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (explaining that the Rule 8 pleading standard "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation").

"[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 572). However, the court is not required to accept as true the legal conclusions set forth in a complaint. Edwards, 178 F.3d at 244. The motion should only be granted if, "after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief." Id.

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To contain sufficient factual matter to make a claimplausible, the factual allegations must "allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

III. Federal Claims
A. RCRA Provisions

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 ("RCRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 6901 et seq., is a comprehensive environmental statute that governs the treatment, storage, and disposal of solid and hazardous waste. Meghrig v. KFC W., Inc., 516 U.S. 479, 483 (1996); City of Chicago v. Envtl. Def. Fund, 511 U.S. 328, 331-32 (1994) ("RCRA is a comprehensive environmental statute that empowers [the Environmental Protection Agency] to regulate hazardous wastes from cradle to grave, in accordance with the rigorous safeguards and waste management procedures of Subtitle C, 42 U.S.C. §§ 6921-6934."). The primary purpose of RCRA is "to reduce the generation of hazardous waste and to ensure the proper treatment, storage, and disposal of that waste which is nonetheless generated, so as to minimize the present and future threat to human health and the environment." Meghrig, 516 U.S. at 483 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 6902(b)).

Subchapter III, or Subtitle C, of RCRA...

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