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New York State Electric & Gas v. Firstenergy Corporation

September 7, 2011

NEW YORK STATE ELECTRIC & GAS CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FIRSTENERGY CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.
FIRSTENERGY CORPORATION, THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
I.D. BOOTH, INC.,
THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David E. Peebles U.S. Magistrate Judge

AMENDED DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff New York State Electric & Gas Corporation ("NYSEG") commenced this action against defendant FirstEnergy Corporation ("FirstEnergy") in April of 2003, asserting various claims including those pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 ("CERCLA"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq., seeking to recover a portion of the past and future costs of investigating and remediating several hazardous waste sites throughout Upstate New York formerly associated with manufactured gas plant ("MGP") operations of NYSEG and its predecessor utility companies. Defendant FirstEnergy, in turn, has interposed a counterclaim against NYSEG for contribution, essentially seeking equitable apportionment of the response costs incurred at the MGP sites, and additionally has asserted a third-party claim for contribution against I.D. Booth, Inc. ("I.D. Booth"), the current owner of portions of two of the sixteen MGP sites in issue.

On July 11, 2011, after conducting a non-jury trial, I issued a written decision addressing the claims in the action. While noting in both its principal and reply briefs that other errors of law also taint that determination, FirstEnergy now seeks reconsideration of three findings contained within my decision. For the reasons set forth below FirstEnergy's request for reconsideration is denied, and judgment in the action will now be entered.

I. BACKGROUND

In my bench decision I found that FirstEnergy is liable for a portion of past and future necessary costs related to the clean-up of the sites in question finding, based upon a veil piercing theory, that its predecessor, the Associated Gas & Electric Company ("AGECO"), is properly regarded as having been an owner and operator of the sixteen sites in issue during all or portions of the period from 1922 through 1940. Based upon that finding I allocated liability as between the two principal parties in the action in proportion to the amounts of manufactured gas produced at the facilities during their relevant periods of ownership and operation, concluding based upon the evidence adduced at trial that hazardous waste likely generated at those facilities can properly be assumed to have been roughly proportional to the quantities of gas produced.

Since the issuance of my post-trial opinion FirstEnergy has moved seeking reconsideration of portions of that decision, challenging three specific findings, arguing that 1) the court's findings regarding the application of the governing CERCLA statute of limitations in connection with the Plattsburgh Site are erroneous, in that they fail to recognize that the actions taken at that site during the 1980s were remedial in nature,thereby triggering the applicable statute of limitations which would have run prior to commencement of this action and barred all of NYSEG's cost recovery claims with regard to that site; 2) the court inappropriately extended FirstEnergy's liability through the end of 1940 despite the filing of bankruptcy by AGECO in January of that year; and 3) the court unjustly allocated cleanup costs as between the parties without appreciating and giving effect to the distinction between owner and operator liability.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Reconsideration Standard

FirstEnergy's motion implicates Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides in relevant part, that [o]n motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party...from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b); (3) fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; (4) the judgment is void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable; or (6) any other reason that justifies relief.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b).*fn1

In this district, reconsideration of an order entered by the court is appropriate upon a showing of "(1) an intervening change in controlling law, (2) the availability of new evidence not previously available, or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." In re CTC 9th Ave. P'ship, 182 B.R.1, 3 (N.D.N.Y. 1995) (McAvoy, C.J.); see also Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Pataki, 188 F. Supp. 2d 223, 244 (N.D.N.Y. 2002) (McCurn, S.J.) (citing Sumner v. McCall, 103 F. Supp. 2d 555, 558 (N.D.N.Y. 2000) (Kahn, J.)). Applications for reconsideration are also subject to an overarching "clearly erroneous" gauge. Sumner, 103 F. Supp. 2d at 558.

The benchmark for seeking reconsideration of a court's order has been described as "demanding[.]" Id. A motion for reconsideration is not a vehicle through which a losing party may raise arguments that could have been presented earlier but for neglect, nor is it a device "'intended to give an unhappy litigant one additional chance to sway the judge.'" Brown v. City of Oneonta, New York,858 F. Supp. 340, 342 (N.D.N.Y. 1994) (McAvoy, C.J.) (quoting Durkin v. Taylor, 444 F. Supp. 879, 889 (E.D.Va. 1977)). To qualify for reconsideration, "[t]he moving party [must] point to controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked -- matters, in other words, that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court." Shrader v. CSX Transp., Inc., 70 F. 3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted).

B. Statute of Limitations:

The Plattsburgh Site The circumstances surrounding the early response actions undertaken by NSYEG at the Plattsburgh--Saranac Street Site were exhaustively detailed in my initial decision and order, and need not be recounted in this decision. See Decision and Order Dated 7/11/11 (Dkt. No. 354) at pp. 154-162. To summarize, spurred by observation of coal tar seepage into the Saranac River, in 1975 NYSEG retained consultants and undertook an investigation into the migration of coal tar from the site to the river. A report was generated in December 1979 -- prior to the enactment CERCLA -- outlining nine alternatives for addressing the issue. After settling on one of the nine proposals NYSEG consented to the entryof an order by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ("DEC") in 1981, pursuant to which it agreed to "voluntarily undertake a remedial project that is acceptable ...


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