Maine People's Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Holtrachem Manufacturing Company, Civil No. 00-69-B-C (D. Me. 12/14/2001), Civil No. 00-69-B-C.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
Writing for the CourtMargaret J. Kravchuk
PartiesMaine People's Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Plaintiffs, v. Holtrachem Manufacturing Company L.L.C. and Mallinckrodt Inc., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil No. 00-69-B-C.
Decision Date14 December 2001

Page 1

Maine People's Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Plaintiffs,
v.
Holtrachem Manufacturing Company L.L.C. and Mallinckrodt Inc., Defendants.
Civil No. 00-69-B-C.
United States District Court, D. Maine.
December 14, 2001.
Recommended Decision on Mallinckrodt's Motion for Summary Judgment on the Basis of Laches

MARGARET J. KRAVCHUK, Magistrate Judge.


In defense of this action, Mallinckrodt, Inc. has filed three separate motions on its defenses that are potentially dispositive of this action. One of these is a motion for summary judgment premised on the doctrine of laches. (Docket No. 50.) The plaintiffs have filed a global response to the three motions. (Docket Nos. 55 & 56.) I recommend that the court DENY the motion seeking judgment on the basis of laches.

Overview of Dispute

The Maine People's Alliance (MPA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.(NRDC) have brought this citizen suit under 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B) of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The moving defendant Mallinckrodt Inc. formally owned and operated a chemical manufacturing facility in Orrington, Maine. The plaintiffs assert that mercury-containing water discharge and air emissions from this facility has contaminated the Penobscot River, creating an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health and environment. They seek injunctive relief, in the form of an order requiring that the defendants undertake a scientific study of mercury contamination in the Penobscot River and develop and implement a remediation plan. Also relevant to this motion is the fact that Mallinckrodt is involved in an ongoing regulatory process with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) that is addressing mercury contamination stemming from the Orrington plant. Though it is anticipated that this process will generate a remediation plan, to date there have been no finalized "media protection standards" generated from this undertaking.

Discussion

In this motion for summary judgment Mallinckrodt argues that plaintiffs' RCRA claim is barred by the equitable doctrine of laches because the plaintiffs have waited too long to bring this court action. The plaintiffs argue that Mallinckrodt has not made a sufficient showing that the doctrine should apply.

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Mallinckrodt is entitled to a favorable summary judgment order only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Pursuant to Local Rule 56, the record is not an open book. I limit my consideration of record materials in accordance with the parties' statements of material facts. D. Me. Loc.R. 56 ("The court shall have no independent duty to search or consider any part of the record not specifically referenced in the parties' separate statement of facts."). In practice, the summary judgment factual record consists solely of those factual statements offered by the parties in their statements of material facts that are both material to the dispute and supported by citation to the record. I view all facts in the light most favorable to MPA and NRDC and give them the benefit of all reasonable inferences in their favor. Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp., 217 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000).

With respect to this summary judgment motion by Mallinckrodt, the material facts, as advanced by Mallinckrodt, are not disputed by the plaintiffs. Consequently, dispensing with this motion does not require the extensive fishing expedition in the converging rivers of disputed and non-disputed material facts that is the normal recreation of a court addressing a motion for summary judgment.

B. The Laches Doctrine in Environmental Suits

The First Circuit articulates the laches doctrine as having two prongs: a party's delay in bringing suit must have been "`(1) unreasonable, and (2) resulted in prejudice to the opposing party.'" Iglesias v. Mutual Life Ins. Co. N.Y., 156 F.3d 237, 243 (1st Cir. 1998) (quoting K-Mart Corp. v. Oriental Plaza, Inc., 875 F.2d 907, 911 (1st Cir. 1989)); accord Murphy v. Timberlane Reg'l School Dist., 973 F.2d 13, 16 (1st Cir. 1992); see also Benoit v. Panthaky, 780 F.2d 336, 339 (3d Cir. 1985) (laches requires "`(1) lack of diligence by the party against whom the defense is asserted, and (2) prejudice to the party asserting the defense'").

Mallinckrodt bears the laboring oar here. As in all summary judgment motions the "moving party must clearly establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact" as to the laches defense. FMC Corp. v. Spurlin, 596 F. Supp. 609, 615 (W.D.Pa. 1984); see also Gonzalez-Gonzalez v. United States, 257 F.3d 31, 38 (1st Cir. 2001) (laches is an affirmative defense and "the burden of proving it rests with its proponent").

Although I agree with Mallinckrodt that the defense of laches is available to a RCRA defendant, I agree with the plaintiffs that laches is a disfavored defense in environmental cases. This is undoubtedly true as a general proposition cited most often in National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) cases, see, e.g., Daingerfield Island Protective Soc'y v. Lujan, 920 F.2d 32, 37-38 (D.C. Cir. 1990); Concerned Citizens on I-190 v. Sec'y of Transp., 641 F.2d 1, 7-8 (1st Cir. 1981) (citing Jones v. Lynn, 477 F.2d 885, 892 (1st Cir. 1973)); Coalition for Canyon Pres. v. Bowers, 632 F.2d 774, 779 (9th Cir. 1980); Jicarilla Apache Tribe v. Andrus, 687 F.2d 1324, 1337-38 (10th Cir. 1982), but also vis-a-vis other environmental acts, see Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n v.Burford, 835 F.2d 305, 318 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (Federal Land Policy and Management Act,...

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