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Lewis Operating Corp. v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Lewis sued the United States under The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) claiming that as an innocent landowner, Lewis should not have to fund the cleanup of contaminated land.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A party is not an innocent landowner if the party contributed to the contamination of land.

    Facts.

    After a U.S. Air Force plane crashed into a tract of land, Lewis Operating Corp. (Lewis) purchased the land, under the impression that the property was not contaminated. When clearing the land, Lewis found and cleared military ammunition and sued the U.S. government to recover the costs of the cleanup.

    Issue.

    Whether a party is an innocent landowner if the party contributed to the contamination of land?

    Held.

    No. The United States did not solely cause the contamination and further inquiry must be made to determine if Lewis should contribute to cleanup costs. Lewis is not an innocent landowner because prior to cleaning up the hazardous substances, Lewis spread the soil from the contaminated site to other fill sites. Lewis’s actions increased the cleanup costs.

    Discussion.

    CERCLA requires any party responsible for releasing hazardous substances into the environment responsible for cleanup costs. The government may also recover the cleanup costs from these responsible parties under the CERCLA. To succeed as an innocent landowner, the party must establish that: (1) Another party caused the release of hazardous substances, (2) the release was not caused in connection with the other party and the landowner, and (3) the landowner tried to guard against the acts of the responsible party.


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