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

United States District Court, S.D. New York

October 23, 2014

IN RE: METHYL TERTIARY BUTYL ETHER (

Robert J. Gordon, Esq., Robin L. Greenwald, Esq., William A. Walsh, Esq., Weitz & Luxenberg, P.C., New York, NY, Liaison Counsel for Plaintiffs.

John D.S. Gilmour, Esq., Jackson Gilmour & Dobbs, P.C., Houston, TX, Counsel for the Commonwealth.

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

Michael J. Dillon, Esq., James A. Pardo, Esq., Stephen J. Riccardulli, Esq., McDermott Will & Emery LLP, New York, NY, Counsel 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 Commonwealth of Puerto Rico ("the Commonwealth") alleges that defendants' use and handling of MTBE has contaminated, or threatened to contaminate groundwater within its jurisdiction. Familiarity with the underlying facts is presumed for the purposes of this Order.

The Puerto Rico legislature recently enacted Law No. 53-2014 ("Law 53"), which states that "prescription does not apply to... claims of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico relating to non-patrimonial public goods[.]" After this Court denied the Commonwealth's motion, in response to the new law, to revise the Court's prior orders addressing prescription, the Commonwealth now moves in accordance with Rule 25 of the Rules of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court to certify the following question regarding the interpretation of Law 53 to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court: "Are the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's claims concerning contamination to the in situ groundwater and surface water of the Commonwealth subject to the defense of prescription?" For the following reasons, the Commonwealth's motion is GRANTED.

II. BACKGROUND

Prior to the Puerto Rico Legislature's enactment of Law 53, this Court had two occasions to address whether the Commonwealth's claims were subject to the defense of prescription. In both cases, I found the defense applied to the Commonwealth's claims.[1] After the enactment of Law 53, the Commonwealth petitioned this Court to revise its prior rulings regarding the applicability of the prescription defense. The Court denied the Commonwealth's motion.[2]

At an October 1, 2014 case management conference, the Commonwealth moved this Court to certify the above question.[3] Pursuant to the Court's directive at the conference, the Commonwealth subsequently submitted to the Court a proposed order stating the question to be certified and explaining the relevant procedural provisions of Puerto Rico law that permit questions to be certified from a U.S. district court to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.[4]

III. LEGAL STANDARD

While the ability of a U.S. district court to certify a question of law to a state supreme court depends largely on the law and procedures of the state receiving the question, where the state court permits certification, the district court must exercise discretion in deciding whether certification is appropriate.[5] To guide the Court on how to exercise its discretion, the Second Circuit has stated that "[c]ertification is to be used in those cases where there is a split of authority on the issue, where [a] statute's plain language does not indicate the answer, or when presented with a complex question of [state] common law for which no [state] authority can be found."[6] Additionally, the Second Circuit has described three primary factors for the Court to consider in deciding whether to certify a question: "(1) the absence of authoritative state court decisions; (2) the importance of the issue to the state; and (3) the capacity of certification to resolve the litigation."[7]

Pursuant to Rule 25 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico utilizes the ...


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