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Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C.S. § 9601 et seq., to prevail in a private cost recovery action, a plaintiff must establish that (1) the site on which the hazardous substances are contained is a "facility" under CERCLA's definition of that term, Section 101(9), 42 U.S.C.S. § 9601(9); (2) a "release" or "threatened release" of any "hazardous substance" from the facility has occurred, 42 U.S.C.S. § 9607(a)(4); (3) such "release" or "threatened release" has caused the plaintiff to incur response costs that were "necessary" and "consistent with the national contingency plan," 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 9607(a)(4) and (a)(4)(B); and (4) the defendant is within one of four classes of persons subject to the liability provisions of Section 107(a), 42 U.S.C.S. § 9607(a).
Carson Harbor Village, Ltd. ("Carson Harbor") owns and operates a mobile home park on seventy acres in the City of Carson, California. From 1977 until 1983, prior to Carson Harbor's ownership, defendant Carson Harbor Village Mobile Home Park, a general partnership controlled by defendants Braley and Smith (the" Partnership Defendants"), owned the property. They, like Carson Harbor, operated a mobile home park on the property. Beginning over thirty years earlier, however, from 1945 until 1983, Unocal Corporation held a leasehold interest in the property and used it for petroleum production, operating a number of oil wells, pipelines, above-ground storage tanks, and production facilities. Carson Harbor brought suit principally under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act ("CERCLA"), 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq., for reimbursement of costs associated with the environmental cleanup.
Did the question of whether those cleanup costs were "necessary" remain a genuine issues of material fact?
The court of appeals concluded that there remained genuine issues of material fact concerning whether Carson Harbor’s response costs were "necessary" and reversed summary judgment in favor of the local government and oil company defendants on this ground. However, the court found that in light of the plain meaning of the terms used to define "disposal" in 42 U.S.C.S. § 6903(3), the alleged passive migration of contaminants through soil during the partnership defendants' ownership was not a "disposal" under § 9607(a)(2), and concluded the partnership defendants were thus entitled to summary judgment on the CERCLA claim.