Orange Cnty. Water Dist. v. Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc., D070771

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtHALLER, J.
Citation219 Cal.Rptr.3d 474,12 Cal.App.5th 252
Parties ORANGE COUNTY WATER DISTRICT, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. ALCOA GLOBAL FASTENERS, INC.et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Decision Date01 June 2017
Docket NumberD070771

12 Cal.App.5th 252
219 Cal.Rptr.3d 474

ORANGE COUNTY WATER DISTRICT, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
ALCOA GLOBAL FASTENERS, INC.et al., Defendants and Respondents.

D070771

Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 1, California.

Filed June 1, 2017
As Modified on Denial of Rehearing June 22, 2017


Connor, Fletcher & Hedenkamp, Edmond M. Connor, Douglas A. Hedenkamp, Irvine; Miller & Axline, Duane C. Miller,

219 Cal.Rptr.3d 491

Michael D. Axline, and Justin Massey, Sacramento, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, R. Gaylord Smith, Ernest Slome, Thomas Teschner, Brittany H. Bartold, San Diego, and Malissa McKeith, Los Angeles, for Defendant and Respondent Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation.

Tatro Tekosky Sadwick and René P. Tatro, Los Angeles, for Defendant and Respondent Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc.

Bowman and Brooke and Lawrence Ramsey, Torrance, for Defendant and Respondent CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Kutak Rock, Jad T. Davis and Tiffany K. Ackley, Irvine, for Defendant and Respondent Crucible Materials Corp.

Musick Peeler & Garrett and Steven J. Elie, Los Angeles, for Defendant and Respondent The Arnold Engineering Company.

HALLER, J.

12 Cal.App.5th 268

The Orange County Water District (the District) brought this action to recover costs associated with the North Basin Groundwater Protection Project (NBGPP), a proposed $200 million effort intended to address groundwater contamination in northern Orange County, California caused by volatile organic compounds (VOC's) and other chemicals. Since at least the mid-1980's, the District and other regulatory agencies such as the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) have been aware of VOC groundwater contamination in the North Basin area. The District and various private parties under the direction of the RWQCB investigated the sources of contamination. Based on these investigations, the District and others concluded that the groundwater contamination was caused by VOC releases at a number of industrial sites in the North Basin area. Under the supervision of the RWQCB and other regulatory agencies, several of these industrial sites have undergone remediation to remove VOC contamination from the shallow soil and groundwater. Other industrial sites received "no further action" letters from the RWQCB based on their investigations.

Concerned that VOC contamination remained in groundwater notwithstanding these remediation efforts, the District began to develop an overarching solution to groundwater contamination in the North Basin. Beginning in

12 Cal.App.5th 269

1999, the District developed and then refined a series of proposals for the NBGPP. The NBGPP is intended to treat VOC contamination in the shallow aquifer, with the goal of preventing contamination of the deeper principal aquifer. The principal aquifer is a source of drinking water for several Orange County municipalities.

An aquifer, at its most basic level, consists of soil or permeable rock saturated with water. In the North Basin area, the shallow aquifer begins approximately 130 feet below ground level and extends to approximately 250 feet ground level. Below the shallow aquifer, separated by a relatively less permeable layer of soil, is the principal aquifer. The principal aquifer begins just below the shallow aquifer and extends to approximately 1,200 to 1,500 feet below ground level in the North Basin area. When used without qualification in this appeal, the term "groundwater" typically refers to water in the shallow aquifer but sometimes the principal aquifer as well.1

219 Cal.Rptr.3d 492

In the course of its investigation, the District identified various current and former owners and operators of industrial sites in the North Basin area that it believed were responsible in some way for VOC contamination. The primary VOC's identified included tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), 1,1-dichloroethylene (1,1-DCE), and 1,1,1-trichloroethane (1,1,1-TCA). The last chemical, 1,1,1-TCA, breaks down into 1,1-DCE and acetic acid. The detection of 1,1-DCE in soil or groundwater can be evidence of past 1,1,1-TCA contamination.

The District filed suit against a number of these owners and operators, including defendants at issue in this appeal: Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc. (Alcoa), Arnold Engineering Co. (Arnold), CBS Broadcasting, Inc. (CBS), Crucible Materials Corp. (Crucible), and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. (Northrop). The District sued several other parties, who settled or were otherwise dismissed from the litigation prior to this appeal. In some cases, as we will explain, the District sued parties who had remediated or were remediating their sites under the auspices of the RWQCB, on the theory that such remediation did not affect VOC contamination that had migrated to the shallow aquifer in the past. The District obtained approximately $21 million in settlements during the underlying litigation.

The District asserted statutory claims for damages under the Carpenter-Presley-Tanner Hazardous Substances Account Act (HSAA;

12 Cal.App.5th 270

Health & Saf. Code, § 25300 et seq. ) and the Orange County Water District Act (OCWD Act; West's Ann. Wat. Code App. (2016 ed.) ch. 40) and for declaratory relief (Code Civ. Proc., § 1060 ). The District also asserted common law claims for negligence, nuisance, and trespass.

By the time of trial, the design of the NBGPP had not been finalized and the vast bulk of the project had not been constructed. The District claimed it had spent approximately $3.7 million in development and construction costs, out of the estimated $200 million total. The District sought to recover its past costs and obtain a declaration holding defendants liable for future costs associated with the NBGPP.

Following an initial bench trial on the District's statutory claims, the trial court determined that the District should take nothing. The court found, among other things, that the NBGPP was neither a reasonable nor a necessary response to the identified groundwater contamination and that defendants did not cause the District to undertake the NBGPP. The court concluded that defendants were entitled to a declaration that they were not responsible for past or future costs related to the NBGPP.

In light of the court's findings, defendants argued that a trial on the District's remaining common law claims for negligence, nuisance, and trespass was unnecessary because those findings would apply in any jury trial on the remaining claims. The court agreed and entered judgment in favor of defendants.

The District appeals. It challenges the judgment on numerous grounds, including (1) the trial court misinterpreted the legal requirements of the District's claims under the HSAA and the OCWD Act; (2) the court erred under Code of Civil Procedure, section 1048, subdivision (b) by scheduling a bench trial on the District's statutory

219 Cal.Rptr.3d 493

(equitable) claims before a jury trial on the District's common law (legal) claims, thereby depriving the District of its right to trial by jury; (3) the court erred by applying its factual findings on the District's equitable claims to defeat the District's common law claims; (4) the court misapplied Evidence Code section 412 and made other erroneous evidentiary rulings; and (5) the court erred by granting declaratory relief in favor of defendants. In response, among other arguments, defendants contend the District cannot assert a claim under the HSAA because it is not seeking "contribution" or "indemnity" as those terms are used in the statute.

We conclude the District may assert a claim under the HSAA. On the merits, however, as we shall explain, we find the trial court misinterpreted some elements of this claim, including its causation standard. Based on our review of the evidence and the court's factual findings, we conclude the

12 Cal.App.5th 271

court's causation error did not prejudice the District, except as to Northrop. However, because the District's HSAA has other essential elements, one of which was not satisfied as to any defendant, the District's HSAA claim against all defendants including Northrop fails. Even though the latter issue is dispositive of the District's HSAA claim, we address the former issues because they present important and novel legal questions and because they affect our consideration of the District's declaratory relief claim.

We further conclude the trial court misinterpreted elements of the District's claim under the OCWD Act, which are similar but not identical to the elements of an HSAA claim. We conclude these errors prejudiced the District as to Northrop (but not the other defendants). We will therefore reverse the judgment on the District's OCWD Act claim as to Northrop and otherwise affirm.

Based on these conclusions, we will reverse the court's declaration of no liability in favor of Northrop but affirm court's declaration of no liability in favor of the...

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54 practice notes
  • Otay Land Co. v. U.E. Ltd., L.P., D068347
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 26, 2017
    ...and NCP compliance is viewed as a mixed question of law and fact. (Orange County Water District v. Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc.(2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 252, 327, 331, 219 Cal.Rptr.3d 474.) Plaintiffs also contend the court abused its discretion in excluding a document related to the final RAP,......
  • Orange Cnty. Water Dist. v. Arnold Eng'g Co., D070763
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 19, 2018
    ...Hazardous Substance Account Act (HSAA; Health & Saf. Code, § 25300 et seq. ). (See Alcoa, supra , 12 Cal.App.5th at pp. 306-307, 316, 219 Cal.Rptr.3d 474.) However, this error is immaterial to the issues in this appeal. The RFAs at issue here are primarily factual and do not cover legal lia......
  • Nationwide Biweekly Admin., Inc. v. Superior Court of Alameda Cnty., S250047
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 30, 2020
    ...the equitable issues be tried first. (See, e.g., 261 Cal.Rptr.3d 738 Orange County Water Dist. v. Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc. (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 252, 355, 219 Cal.Rptr.3d 474 [citing cases].) This general "equity first preference" is a long standing feature of California law and has alw......
  • Orange Cnty. Water Dist. v. Sabic Innovative Plastics United States, LLC, D070553
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 4, 2017
    ...Inc. (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 229, 218 Cal.Rptr.3d 614 ( MAG ); Orange County Water Dist. v. Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc. (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 252, 219 Cal.Rptr.3d 474 ( Alcoa ).) The North Basin, as its name suggests, is geographically separate from the South Basin, and it is contaminated by......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
52 cases
  • Otay Land Co. v. U.E. Ltd., L.P., D068347
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 26, 2017
    ...and NCP compliance is viewed as a mixed question of law and fact. (Orange County Water District v. Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc.(2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 252, 327, 331, 219 Cal.Rptr.3d 474.) Plaintiffs also contend the court abused its discretion in excluding a document related to the final RAP,......
  • Orange Cnty. Water Dist. v. Arnold Eng'g Co., D070763
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 19, 2018
    ...Hazardous Substance Account Act (HSAA; Health & Saf. Code, § 25300 et seq. ). (See Alcoa, supra , 12 Cal.App.5th at pp. 306-307, 316, 219 Cal.Rptr.3d 474.) However, this error is immaterial to the issues in this appeal. The RFAs at issue here are primarily factual and do not cover legal lia......
  • Nationwide Biweekly Admin., Inc. v. Superior Court of Alameda Cnty., S250047
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 30, 2020
    ...the equitable issues be tried first. (See, e.g., 261 Cal.Rptr.3d 738 Orange County Water Dist. v. Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc. (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 252, 355, 219 Cal.Rptr.3d 474 [citing cases].) This general "equity first preference" is a long standing feature of California law and has alw......
  • Orange Cnty. Water Dist. v. Sabic Innovative Plastics United States, LLC, D070553
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 4, 2017
    ...Inc. (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 229, 218 Cal.Rptr.3d 614 ( MAG ); Orange County Water Dist. v. Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc. (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 252, 219 Cal.Rptr.3d 474 ( Alcoa ).) The North Basin, as its name suggests, is geographically separate from the South Basin, and it is contaminated by......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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