Orange Co. Water Dist. v. Sabic Innovative Plastics

Tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), were detected in groundwater drawn from a drinking water well in the South Basin area operated by the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD). The Orange County Water District (District) undertook efforts to identify the source of groundwater contamination and engaged consultants to recommend further avenues of investigation. Although the District's investigation has continued, it had not yet developed a final treatment plan or remediated any contamination by the time of the underlying litigation. During its investigation, the District filed suit against various current and former owners and operators of certain sites in the South Basin area that it believed were in some way responsible for groundwater contamination. The District asserted statutory claims for damages under the Carpenter-Presley Tanner Hazardous Substance Account Act (HSAA) and the Orange County Water District Act (OCWD Act) and for declaratory relief. The District also asserted common law claims for negligence, nuisance, and trespass. Following numerous motions for summary judgment and summary adjudication, and a limited bench trial on the District's ability to bring suit under the HSAA, the trial court entered judgments in favor of the defendants on all of the District's claims. The District appealed, challenging the judgments on numerous grounds. The Court of Appeal confirmed that the HSAA allowed the District to bring suit under the circumstances here, and that the District could recover certain remediation-related investigatory costs under the OCWD Act. The Court also addressed the HSAA's nonretroactivity provision and concluded its requirements were not satisfied here. Furthermore, the Court concluded the theory of continuous accrual applies to the District's negligence cause of action, such that no defendant except one has shown the statute of limitations barred that claim. As to the District's causes of action for trespass and nuisance, the Court concluded the District raised a triable issue of fact regarding its potential groundwater rights in the South Basin. In doing so, the Court addressed the State’s potential interests in groundwater (as allegedly delegated to the District), the District's regulatory powers over groundwater, and its rights based on its groundwater replenishment or recharge activities. The Court concluded the District's potential rights in groundwater were insufficient, on the current record in this case, to maintain a trespass cause of action. However, triable issues of fact precluded summary judgment on the District's nuisance claim for all defendants except one. Finally, the Court concluded most of defendants' site-specific arguments (primarily based on causation) did not entitle them to summary adjudication of any causes of action. The judgments will therefore be affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Orange Co. Water Dist. v. Sabic Innovative Plastics" on Justia Law