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R.R. Street Not Liable in Perc Contamination Lawsuit: Appeals Court

Bruce Beggs |

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on July 27 upheld a lower court’s ruling that R.R. Street & Co. is not liable for contribution to perchlorethylene environmental cleanup costs under federal and California state laws, the company reports.

The Ninth Circuit held that equipment manufacturer Street’s was not liable as an “arranger of hazardous waste,” because it had not sold its product specifically for disposal of a hazardous substance.

In the 1980s, Team Enterprises, a large drycleaner in California’s central valley, disposed of contact wastewater containing perc by pouring it down the sewer drain. After finding perc in the soil, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board required cleanup.

Team consequently sued Street’s, along with other drycleaning equipment manufacturers and perc solvent producers, seeking financial contribution toward the cleanup. U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill exonerated Street’s of any contribution liability in August 2010, and Team appealed the decision.

The appeal’s primary focus was that Street’s, by selling a Puritan Rescue 800 filter-and-still combination to Team, was an arranger of hazardous waste under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. Team argued that Street’s took intentional steps, planned for perc disposal and exercised control over the wastewater disposal process.

“The self-evident purpose of the Rescue 800 was to recover and recycle usable PCE [perc] that would otherwise be discarded,” the appeals court wrote. “Indeed, if Team’s assertions are true, Team would have disposed of far more PCE had it not used the Rescue 800 to recapture used PCE.”

The Ninth Circuit also rejected Team’s argument that instructions from Street’s to pipe wastewater to a pail or other suitable container amounted to Street’s exercising control over the disposal process. Additionally, the appeals court held that the Rescue 800 was not a disposal system.

In a related appeal, on Monday, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a U.S. District Court order dismissing claims against Street’s for contribution liability under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Hinds Investments, an owner of two shopping centers at which Team operated drycleaning stores, sued Street’s and other drycleaning equipment manufacturers for contribution to cleanup costs.

“We are pleased with the Ninth Circuit’s opinions,” says L. Ross Beard, Street’s chief executive officer. “Street has a long history of responsible product stewardship, and we will continue to vigorously defend any allegations or claims suggesting the contrary.”

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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