Judge Dismisses Superfund Suit against Pyro Spectaculars

A federal court in Los Angeles on Aug. 10 dismissed a Superfund lawsuit brought by the federal government in February 2010 on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Pyro Spectaculars, Inc. (PSI) and seven other defendants, according to a release from Pyro Spectaculars' counsel.

The suit sought $7 million in past cleanup costs and an estimated $50 million in future costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, two federal cleanup statutes, for Southern California’s Rialto-Colton Basin, which was contaminated with perchlorate and trichloroethylene (TCE).

Judge Philip Gutierrez of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California rejected the United States’ claim that the federal government alone is not subject to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 13, which requires a party to file a counterclaim for every claim made by the opposing party.

PSI’s attorney, Philip Hunsucker of Hunsucker Goodstein & Nelson PC, said, “This decision makes clear that when the United States' government has environmental liability under CERCLA, it will be treated just like every other party in a lawsuit.”

Gutierrez also rejected the government’s argument that it did not have to file counterclaims after it was sued for pollution caused by the U.S. Army during World War II at the Rialto Ammunition Backup Storage Point in Rialto, Calif. The judge held that the United States should have filed compulsory counterclaims in a lawsuit brought by the City of Colton in 2005. The government had argued unsuccessfully that Rule 13 should not apply because contamination claims in that suit involved the Department of Defense, while cleanup claims involved EPA.

Litigation relating to perchlorate and TCE contamination in the Rialto-Colton Basin began in lawsuits filed in 2004 by the City of Rialto and in 2005 by the City of Colton. The Colton case was dismissed on summary judgment in 2006. Despite being a defendant in that case, the government failed to file enforcement claims until last February.

This is only the second federal court to address the issue of whether the federal government must follow Rule 13 in CERCLA cases in which it is a potentially responsible party. In Raytheon Aircraft Co. v. United States, a U.S. District Court in Kansas ruled in favor of the government. Gutierrez found the earlier decision was irrelevant, noting that the Kansas Court had specified that its holding was limited to Raytheon’s unique facts.

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