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LLC v. Lee

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

August 15, 2019

2121 ABBOTT MARTIN PARTNERS, LLC, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
YONG Y. LEE, et al., Defendants.

          NEWBERN MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM

          WILLIAM L. CAMPBELL, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) (Doc. No. 27), filed by Defendants Yong Y. Lee, Dong Y. Lee, Joong S. Seo, and Hyunmi K. Seo. Plaintiffs have filed responses to the Motion (Doc. Nos. 36, 63) and Defendants have filed a reply brief (Doc. No. 40). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. No. 27) is DENIED.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         In their Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 42), [1] Plaintiffs 2121 Abbott Martin Partners, LLC, and Bradford Realty Partners allege they are owners of certain real property located in Nashville, Tennessee, on which Defendants Yong Y. Lee, Dong Y. Lee, Joong S. Seo, Hyunmi K. Seo, and Greg Davis formerly owned and/or operated a dry-cleaning business. Plaintiffs allege the site has been contaminated with material used in the dry-cleaning business, and seek relief from Defendants under the Comprehensive Environment Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 9501, et seq. (“CERCLA”).

         More specifically, Plaintiffs allege they incurred costs in cleaning up the contamination between 2007 and approximately 2013, and Count I seeks recovery of those costs based on CERCLA Section 107(a) (42 U.S.C. § 9607(a)).[2] Plaintiffs further allege that, as part of an administrative settlement (“the Brownfield Voluntary Agreement” or “BVA”) with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (“TDEC”) entered on June 15, 2018, they have incurred other costs, and expect to incur additional costs in the future, and Count II seeks recovery of those costs based on CERCLA Section 113(f)(3)(B) (42 U.S.C. § 9613(f)(3)(B)). All the defendants except Greg Davis have filed the pending Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. No. 27) seeking to dismiss Count I.

         III. Analysis

         A. The Standards Governing Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings

         In considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must determine whether the allegations establish the party making the motion is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Depositors Ins. Co. v. Estate of Ryan, 637 Fed.Appx. 864, 868 (6th Cir. 2016); JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 510 F.3d 577, 582 (6th Cir.2007). The court is to accept as true all well-pleaded material allegations of the complaint. Id. The court need not accept as true, however, legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. Id.

         B. CERCLA Sections 107(a) and 113(f)(3)(B)

         Defendants argue Count I should be dismissed because Plaintiffs may only seek to recover their cleanup costs under Section 113(f)(3)(B), [3] not Section 107(a), [4] given that Plaintiffs have entered into a settlement agreement with TDEC. Plaintiffs argue they are entitled to seek recovery under Section 107(a) for costs that were not incurred as part of the settlement agreement with TDEC.

         As noted by the Supreme Court in United States v. Atlantic Research Corp., 551 U.S. 128, 127 S.Ct. 2331, 2333, 168 L.Ed.2d 28 (2007), both Sections 107(a) and 113(f)(3)(B) “allow private parties to recover expenses associated with cleaning up contaminated sites.” Section 107(a) permits a private party to recoup CERCLA-related costs from other potentially responsible parties (“PRPs”). Id. Section 113(f)(3)(B) permits a private party to seek contribution from other PRPs after it has settled its liability with either the federal or state government. 127 S.Ct. at 2334 n. 1. The Court described the interaction between these two provisions as follows:

Section 113(f) explicitly grants PRPs a right to contribution. Contribution is defined as the ‘tortfeasor's right to collect from others responsible for the same tort after the tortfeasor has paid more than his or her proportionate share, the shares being determined as a percentage of fault.' Black's Law Dictionary 353 (8th ed.2004). Nothing in § 113(f) suggests that Congress used the term ‘contribution' in anything other than this traditional sense. The statute authorizes a PRP to seek contribution ‘during or following' a suit under § 106 or § 107(a). 42 U.S.C. § 9613(f)(1). Thus, § 113(f)(1) permits suit before or after the establishment of ...

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