Miami-Dade County, Fla. v. U.S.

Decision Date30 September 2004
Docket NumberCiv. No. 01-1930.
Citation345 F.Supp.2d 1319
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
PartiesMIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Florida, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant.

Thomas H. Robertson, Dade County Attorney's Office Metro Dade Center, Lori Anne Sochin, Greenberg Traurig, Miami, FL, Reginald L. Bouthillier, Jr., Greenberg, Traurig, Hoffman, Lipoff, Rosen & Quentel, Tallahassee, FL, Ronald W. Kleinman, Peter M. Gillon, Reed D. Rubinstein, Greenberg Traurig, Washington, DC, Robert J. Joyce, Joyce, Paul, Carlson & McDaniel, Tulsa, OK, Mitchell J. Rotbert, Sabrina Mizrachi, Rotbert & Associates, Rockville, MD, for plaintiff.

Guy Alan Lewis, Wilfredo Fernandez, Beth Dawson Jarrett, United States Attorney's Office, Lily Chinn, Lewis M. Barr, Tracy N. Gruis, United States Department of Justice Environment & Natural Resources, Washington, DC, for defendant.


MARTINEZ, District Judge.

This is a civil environmental action brought by Miami-Dade County against the United States of America for monetary recovery, injunctive relief, and declaratory relief arising from environmental contamination at and around Miami International Airport ("MIA"), which is located in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Miami-Dade County seeks relief pursuant to two federal statutes, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 ("CERCLA"), as amended 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601-9675, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ("RCRA"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 6901-6992; certain Florida statutes; and Chapter 24 of the Miami-Dade County Code. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

The Court conducted a non-jury trial in this action on sixteen days between December 8, 2003 and January 7, 2004. After reviewing written memoranda of law submitted by the parties, the Court heard closing arguments on February 4, 2004. Having carefully considered the testimony and evidence, the briefs of counsel, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court enters the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in accordance with its obligations under Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

A. The Parties

1. Plaintiff, Miami-Dade County (the "County"), is a charter county established pursuant to the Florida Constitution. Article VIII, Section 1(g) of the Florida Constitution provides that charter counties

shall have all powers of local self-government not inconsistent with general law, or with special law approved by vote of the electors. The governing body of a county operating under a charter may enact county ordinances not inconsistent with general law. The charter shall provide which shall prevail in the event of a conflict between county and municipal ordinances.

See Levy v. Miami-Dade County, 254 F.Supp.2d 1269, 1272-74 (S.D.Fla.2003) (discussing the historical background of the County, as provided to the Court by stipulation of the parties). The County has acted as landlord for aviation industry tenants at MIA since 1948. (Exs. 6, 7, 5030, 5179, 5196, 5198, 5200, 5221, 6178, and 6482).1 The County concedes it is a responsible party under 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a).

2. Defendant, United States of America (the "United States"), is the federal government established by the Constitution of the United States of America and includes all relevant agencies of the federal government. Absent a waiver of sovereign immunity, this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear a claim against the United States. FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475, 114 S.Ct. 996, 127 L.Ed.2d 308 (1994); United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 586, 61 S.Ct. 767, 85 L.Ed. 1058 (1941). The United States acted as the exclusive owner and operator of MIA from 1942 to 1948. (Ex. 8).

B. Procedural Background

3. The County filed suit against the United States on May 11, 2001 and demanded trial by jury. Subsequently, upon Defendant's motion, the Court struck the jury demand as to all counts. (D.E. No. 150). Count I of the Complaint seeks contribution under CERCLA for the direct owner/operator liability of the United States, for the World War II period,2 the post-World War II transition period,3 and the post-World War II period.4

4. Count II seeks contribution under CERCLA for arranger liability of the United States in connection with its direct operations at MIA.

5. Count III seeks contribution under CERCLA for activities performed for and at the direction of the United States by Aerodex, Inc. ("Aerodex").

6. Count IV seeks contribution under CERCLA for activities performed for and at the direction of the United States by private maintenance companies.

7. Count V seeks contribution under CERCLA for activities of the "overhaul joint venture," a common law joint venture between the United States and Aerodex.

8. Count VI seeks declaratory relief under CERCLA that the United States is liable to the County for the United States' allocable share of the cost incurred and costs to be incurred in response to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances at or from the facilities at MIA.

9. Count VII is a RCRA citizens' suit by which the County seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction ordering the United States to undertake, perform, and pay for any further responses, investigations, assessments, or corrective actions necessary in connection with the releases of solid wastes, hazardous substances, pollutants, contaminants, and petroleum products caused or contributed to by the United States that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment in or around MIA.

10. Count VIII seeks cost recovery, contribution, and declaratory relief pursuant to Section 376.313, Florida Statutes. Section 376.313 allows an individual to bring a cause of action for damages and contribution resulting from pollution discharges.

11. Count IX seeks contribution and declaratory relief pursuant to Section 403.727, Florida Statutes. Section 403.727(8) provides that a party liable for pollution conditions which violate the statute shall have a right to contribution from other parties liable for the pollution conditions, as set forth in § 403.727(c). Section 403.727(c) is modeled 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a)(3), which identifies parties who are potentially liable for the payment or reimbursement of response costs under CERCLA. See Florida Power & Light Co. v. Allis Chalmers Corp., 893 F.2d 1313, 1317 n. 3.

12. Count X seeks cost recovery, declaratory relief, preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, and civil penalties pursuant to Chapter 24 of the Miami-Dade County Code ("County Code"). Specifically, the County alleges the United States' actions resulted in pollution discharges to state waters, a nuisance, and a sanity nuisance in violation of Chapter 24-11(1) and 24-11(3) of the County Code.

13. The United States moved for judgment on the pleadings. (D.E. No. 82). In its motion, the United States argued the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear Counts VIII, IX, and X, because the United States has not waived sovereign immunity to suit under the state and local laws at issue.

14. The Court held that as a matter of law, "the CERCLA waiver of sovereign immunity applies only to facilities currently owned or operated by a department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States, and that the RCRA waiver does not apply to past government activities." (D.E. No. 177). However, the Court declined to enter judgment on the pleadings as to Counts VIII, IX, and X, because both parties submitted evidence outside the pleadings, which "present[ed] a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the designation of MIA as a [Formerly Used Defense Site] confers control over MIA to the United States which is sufficient to trigger RCRA's waiver of sovereign immunity." Id.5 The Court stated "[t]his evidence further raises the question of what effect the 1948 quitclaim deeds had on the United States's relationship to [MIA]." Id.6

15. Subsequently, the United States moved for summary judgment on most of the liability claims made by the County pursuant to CERCLA and RCRA.7 (D.E No. 109). The Court held summary judgment was inappropriate, because there were genuine issues of material fact. (D.E. No. 179). The Court further held to the extent the parties agreed upon issues of material facts, they drew divergent inferences and conclusions from those facts, in light of the disputed issues of material fact. Id.

16. The County also moved for partial summary judgment that the United States is a former owner of a facility for purposes of CERCLA liability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a)(2). (D.E. No. 127). Specifically, the County sought to establish the United States is a former owner of: U.S. Air Force aircraft; a "wash rack" at the U.S. Air Force Landing Apron No. 7; and the Miami Air Depot ("MIAD").8

17. In its Response to the County's motion for partial summary judgment, the United States conceded:

[The United States] was a "former owner" for CERCLA purposes with respect to portions of Miami International Airport ("MIA") that it owned from 1943 to 1948 and with respect to approximately 144 acres of MIA that the United States leased for Air Force use from 1948 to 1966.

(D.E. No. 130).9

18. Accordingly, the Court granted the County's motion to the extent the United States conceded it is a former owner of portions of MIA and held the inquiry at trial would be the County's demand for equitable allocation of cleanup costs pursuant to § 113(f)(1) of CERCLA. However, the Court also held under Florida law the United States is not a former owner of MIAD by virtue of various provisions in the 1948 quitclaim deeds that conveyed title for MIA from the United States to the County and denied the County's motion as to this claim. (D.E. No. 178).

C. ...

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