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In re Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (" MTBE") Products Liability Litigation

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 3, 2014

IN RE: METHYL TERTIARY BUTYL ETHER (

Gwen P. Farley, John J. Hoffman, Assistant Attorney Generals Office of the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, Trenton, NJ.

Daniel Berger, Esq., Tyler E. Wren, Esq., Berger & Montague, P.C., Philadelphia, PA.

Leonard Z. Kaufmann, Esq. Cohn, Lifland, Pearlman, Herrmann & Knopf LLP, Saddle Brook, NJ, for Plaintiffs.

Peter John Sacripanti, Esq., James A. Pardo, Esq., Stephen J. Riccardull, Esq., Lisa A. Gerson, Esq., McDermott Will & Emery LLP, New York, NY, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

SHIRA A. SCHEINDLIN, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a consolidated multi-district litigation ("MDL") relating to contamination-actual or threatened-of groundwater from various defendants' use of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether ("MTBE") and/or tertiary butyl alcohol, a product formed by the breakdown of MTBE in water. In this case, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ("NJDEP"), the Commissioner of the NJDEP, and the Administrator of the New Jersey Spill Compensation Fund allege that defendants use and handling of MTBE has contaminated, or threatened to contaminate groundwater at service stations, refineries, and terminals throughout New Jersey. Familiarity with the facts of this case is presumed for the purposes of this Order.

Currently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment brought by various defendants[1] seeking dismissal of plaintiffs' (1) public nuisance claim to the extent it seeks damages beyond abatement; and (2) trespass claim on the grounds that plaintiffs failed to prove that they have exclusive possession of New Jersey's groundwater. For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED.

II. BACKGROUND[2]

On June 19, 2012, plaintiffs filed their Fourth Amended Complaint ("FAC"), asserting claims of (1) strict liability, (2) negligence, (3) public nuisance, and (4) trespass against defendants.[3]

Plaintiffs purport to bring their common law claims-including public nuisance and trespass-in their sovereign capacity as parens patriae. [4] Specifically, the FAC asserts that the NJDEP "is vested with the authority to protect and seek compensation for any injury to [the waters of the State] on behalf of the State, which is the trustee, for the benefit of the citizens, of all natural resources within its borders..."[5] The basis of both the public nuisance and trespass claims is that defendants' conduct contaminated the "waters of the State, " which the State holds in trust for the public.[6] As relief for their public nuisance claim, plaintiffs seek both abatement and damages.[7]

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate "only where, construing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and... the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[8] "A genuine dispute exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a ...


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