Northern California Record

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Federal judge throws out environmental complaint against shareholders of Sacramento metal plating facility


By Angela Underwood | Jul 18, 2018

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against a Sacramento metal plating faciltiy that alleged environmental damage.

SACRAMENTO –– A California federal judge dismissed the city of Sacramento’s soil and groundwater contamination complaint against a metal plating facility.

In a June 27 order, Judge William B. Shubb of the U.S. District Court of Eastern District of California granted a request by Richard and Sharon Leland, shareholders of R&L Business Management, to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim.

The city brought the action against the Lelands, arguing that as shareholders they partly own the company and are responsible for the environmental damage, but the judge ruled just being shareholders does not make them an owner, and thus, not necessarily responsible. 

The city hoped to use the Gatto Act, which provides California cities and agencies authority to force the cleanup of contaminated property. The city also alleged violations of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), California Health & Safety Code and the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.

In his decision, Shubb said the city could not show the Lelands operated the facility.

“Given the circular definition of ‘operator’ in the statute, the Supreme Court clarified that ‘under CERCLA, an operator is simply someone who directs the workings of, manages, or conducts the affairs of a facility,’ Shubb wrote.

The judge dismissed the other claims under similar reasoning.

"For the same reasons that plaintiffs’ complaint does not state a claim for 'owner or operator' liability under CERCLA, it fails to state a Gatto Act claim,” Shubb wrote.

He also threw out the allegations of public nuisance, trespass, negligence, ultrahazardous activity and statutory indemnity.

“Because the court has dismissed all other causes of action, the court will grant defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claim for declaratory relief,” Shubb wrote. 

Shubb granted the city's request for leave to amend the complaint. Sacramento filed the amended complaint earlier this month. 

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