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Metro. Dade County v. Chase Fed. Hous. Corp.

Supreme Court of Florida

June 10, 1999, Decided

No. 92,536

Opinion

 [*496]  PARIENTE, J.

We have for review Metropolitan Dade County v. Chase Federal Housing Corp., 705 So. 2d 674 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998), a decision certifying the following question to be one of great public importance:

ARE SUBSECTIONS 376.3078(3) AND 376.3078(9), FLORIDA STATUTES (1995), [OF THE DRY CLEANING CONTAMINATION [**2]  CLEANUP ACT,] WHICH PROVIDE TO ELIGIBLE ENTITIES CONDITIONAL IMMUNITY FROM CERTAIN ADMINISTRATIVE AND JUDICIAL ACTIONS BY STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND AGENCIES, INTENDED BY THE LEGISLATURE TO APPLY RETROACTIVELY, THUS PRECLUDING ACTIONS AGAINST IMMUNIZED ENTITIES FOR THE RECOVERY BY A GOVERNMENT FOR ENFORCEMENT AND REHABILITATION COSTS EXPENDED PRIOR TO THE ENACTMENT OF THESE SUBSECTIONS?

Id. at 675. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. For the reasons expressed below, we answer the certified question in the affirmative.

BACKGROUND

The defendants below, Suniland Associates and Chase Federal Housing Corporation, owned shopping centers along U.S. 1 (South Dixie Highway) in the Suniland area of Dade County. Both defendants leased space in their shopping center to operators of dry cleaning facilities, but neither defendant had owned or operated a dry cleaning facility or had any knowledge of any contamination from dry cleaning solvents occurring on their property.

In 1991, the Department of Environmental Resources Management of Metropolitan Dade County issued Suniland Associates an emergency order to correct a sanitary nuisance in accordance [**3]  with provisions of the Dade County Code. The emergency order directed Suniland Associates to eliminate dry cleaning solvent contamination discovered in a storm drain and septic tank on its property.

Suniland Associates, at its own expense, conducted environmental assessments, installed a groundwater treatment facility, and pumped the contaminants from the septic tank and storm drain. Suniland Associates expended $ 450,000 in order to remove the contamination from the property. The dry cleaning facility in the shopping center owned by Suniland Associates ceased operations in 1992. No dry cleaning facility has been in operation on the property since that time.

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737 So. 2d 494 *; 1999 Fla. LEXIS 1048 **; 48 ERC (BNA) 1859; 24 Fla. L. Weekly S 267

METROPOLITAN DADE COUNTY, Petitioner, vs. CHASE FEDERAL HOUSING CORPORATION, ET AL. Respondents.

Prior History:  [**1]  Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Certified Great Public Importance. Third District - Case Nos. 97-857, 97-50 & 97-49. (Dade County).

Disposition: Certified question answered in the affirmative and decision approved.

CORE TERMS

contamination, dry cleaning, rehabilitation, retroactively, eligibility, immunity, costs, entities, expended, real property owner, drycleaning, solvents, sites, immunity provision, cleaning, legislative intent, rights, eligible to participate, effective date, environmental, retroactive application, facilities, ordinances, county code, home rule, groundwater, provisions, supplied, cases, political subdivision

Environmental Law, Hazardous Wastes & Toxic Substances, Cleanup, Governments, State & Territorial Governments, Claims By & Against, Legislation, Interpretation, Effect & Operation, Prospective Operation, Retrospective Operation, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Separation of Powers, Enforcement, Potentially Responsible Parties, Operators & Owners, CERCLA & Superfund, Torts, Negligence, Gross Negligence, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Local Governments, Home Rule, Relations With Governments