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Cornett v. Northrop Grumman Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 6, 2020

CHRISTOPHER J. CORNETT, BRUCE CORNETT, and CATHY CORNETT Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN CORPORATION, and NORTHROP GRUMMAN SYSTEMS CORPORATION, Defendants.

          For Plaintiffs: Rigano LLC By: James P. Rigano, Esq. Nicholas C. Rigano, Esq. Leslie R. Bennett, Esq. Alyse Delle Fave, Esq.

          For Defendants: Morrisson & Foerster LLP By: Grant J. Esposito, Esq. Jessica Kaufman, Esq. Katie L. Viggiani, Esq. Robert J. Baehr, Esq. Hollingsworth LLP By: Frank Leone, Esq.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          DENIS R. HURLEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Christopher J. Cornett (“Chris”), Bruce Cornett (“Bruce”), and Cathy Cornett (“Cathy”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs” or “Cornetts”) brought this action for negligence and strict liability against Northrop Grumman Corporation and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation (collectively, the “Defendants”) for injuries and damages allegedly suffered as a result of the release of hazardous substances from Northrop Grumman's former site of approximately 605 acres in Bethpage, New York. Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         The following allegations are taken from the Amended Complaint (“Am. Comp.”) and assumed true for purposes of this motion, unless otherwise noted.

         Parties

         Plaintiffs Chris Cornett, Bruce Cornett, and Cathy Cornett are a family from Bethpage, New York. Bruce and Cathy Cornett, husband and wife, have lived in Bethpage since February 10, 1984. (Am. Compl. [ECF No. 7] ¶¶ 6-9.) Chris Cornett, son of Bruce and Cathy Cornett, lived in Bethpage, New York from his birth in 1984 until April 2018. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.)

         Defendant Northrup Grumman, a successor to Northrop Corporation, and Defendant Northrop Grumman Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Defendant Northrop Grumman, are corporations organized under the laws of the State of Delaware with their principal places of business and headquarters in Virginia. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11-13.)

         Defendants' Activities in Bethpage

         Beginning in the early 1930s and for decades thereafter, Grumman Aerospace Corporation, a predecessor of Defendant Northrop Grumman, operated a facility in Bethpage, New York. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14.) The facility, which encompassed approximately 605 acres (“Grumman site”) was owned and operated by Defendants. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14-15.) “The operations at the Grumman site comprised the engineering, manufacturing, primary assembly, and research/development testing of a variety of military and aerospace crafts.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 16.)

         Within approximately 108 acres of the Grumman site, the United States Navy established a facility known as the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant (“NWIRP site”) for “design engineering, research prototyping, testing, fabrication and primary and subassembly of various naval aircrafts.” (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17, 19.) The NWIRP site was owned by the Navy but operated by Defendants and their predecessor entities. (Am. Compl. ¶ 18.) Plaintiffs allege upon information and belief that, “since no later than 1947, Defendants were aware or should have been aware that their operations at the Grumman site and the NWIRP site were causing subsurface hazardous waste contamination in Bethpage.” (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20-21).

         Defendant Northrop Grumman Systems and/or its predecessor entities owned and/or operated approximately eighteen acres of land adjacent to the Grumman site (“18-acre property”). (Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) Defendants, through their predecessor entities, used a portion of the 18-acre property, known as the Former Grumman Settling Ponds Area, “as a dumping ground for hazardous waste, specifically for dewatering of sludge, including neutralized chromic acid waste from the wastewater treatment facility located at the Grumman site, ” from approximately 1949 to 1962. (Am. Compl. ¶ 23.) In 1962, Defendant Northrop Grumman Systems and/or its predecessor entity, Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, donated the 18-acre property to the Town of Oyster Bay (“Oyster Bay”). (Am. Compl. ¶ 26.) Prior to donating the 18-acre property, which included the Former Grumman Settling Ponds area, Defendants and their predecessors knew or should have known that the property was “grossly contaminated” and that “the Town of Oyster Bay intended to use the property for a public park where children, among others, would play.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 29.) “Defendants and their predecessors” did not inform Oyster Bay “until decades after donating the property” that they used the 18-acre property for waste disposal and that it was grossly contaminated. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30-31.)

         Subsequent Use and Contamination of the Grumman Site and 18-acre property

         Since 1962, Oyster Bay has used the 18-acre property as the Bethpage Community Park for public recreation purposes. For example, in or shortly after 1962, Oyster Bay built a baseball field on the Former Grumman Settling Ponds area, where children played little league baseball for decades. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 33-34.)

         In 1983, the Grumman site was added to the New York State Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Sites (“Superfund sites”) maintained by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”). (Am. Compl. ¶ 35.) In 1987, the Grumman site was classified as a class 2 Superfund site, which means that it “poses a significant threat to human health and/or the environment and for which action is required.” (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 35-36.)[1]

         Plaintiffs allege that “[m]ultiple contaminants from the Grumman site, the NWIRP site, and the Forman Grumman Settling Ponds area have entered the groundwater and migrated with the groundwater south and southeast within Bethpage, extending horizontally to form an approximately six (6) square mile area of contamination and to a depth of approximately 750 feet (‘Plume'), ” impacting drinking water supply wells in Bethpage. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 55-56.)

         Contaminants Allegedly Discharged by Defendants

         Drinking Water

         “Numerous [volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”)] contaminants have been found in the groundwater emanating from the Grumman site, the NWIRP site and the Former Grumman Settling Ponds area at levels within the Plume up to 15, 000 ppb, nearly 3, 000 times acceptable groundwater levels.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 60.) The VOCs of concern within the Plume have been found to cause kidney, testicular, prostate and other types of cancer. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 61-62.) The VOCs have impacted public drinking water supply wells located within the Plume, including ...


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