New York v. Shore Realty Corp.
759 F.2d 1032 (2d Cir. 1985)

  • Shore Realty and its owner LeoGrande bought some property that they knew was contaminated by 70k gallons hazardous wastes.
    • The wastes were placed there illegally by two previous tenants.
    • Shore received a detailed report, which called the site a "potential time bomb," and estimated that cleanup costs could be as high as $1M.
  • Shore applied for a waiver of liability from the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), but the waiver was denied. Shore took title to the property anyway.
    • After Shore took title, the tenants dumped another 90k gallons of hazardous wastes on the site before their lease expired.
  • A month after the tenants were gone, New York sued Shore under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Recovery Act (CERCLA) to cleanup the site.
  • The Trial Court found Shore liable under CERCLA for directing the State's response costs and issued an injunction under New York nuisance laws directing Shore to remove the remaining hazardous wastes. Shore appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • Shore argued that they could not be held liable for cleanup costs because they were not responsible for putting the wastes there. However, the Appellate Court found that CERCLA holds four classes of persons liable for cleanup costs:
      • The current owner and operator of a facility. (107(a)(1))
      • Any person who at the time of disposal owned or operated the facility. (107(a)(2))
      • Any person who by contract or agreement arranged for disposal or transport of the hazardous wastes. (107(a)(3))
      • Any person who accepted the hazardous wastes for transport or disposal. (107(a)(4))
    • Shore argued that 107(a)(1) should be read to cover only owners and operators at the time of disposal. However, the Appellate Court rejected this argument and found that 107(a)(1) unequivocally imposes strict liability on the current owner of the facility, without regard to causation.
    • Shore also argued that under 107(b)(3), there was an exception to liability for releases caused solely by third parties, as long as the owner exercises due care. However, the Appellate Court found that Shore was aware of the tenants' activities and continued to allow them to dump wastes after Shore took title to the property, so they don't qualify for the exception.
      • When CERCLA was amended, this exception was clarified in 107(b)(3) (and (101(35)(B)) to apply to those who:
        • Did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the presence of hazardous substances when they acquired the property.
        • Government entities who acquired the property through involuntary transfer.
        • Acquired the property through inheritance.