(CN) – A federal judge in Puerto Rico acted too hastily in ordering Esso Standard Oil to clean up the contamination allegedly caused by three leaky underground storage tanks, the 1st Circuit ruled.
Judge Lipez said the lower court’s injunction and remediation order stripped the oil company of a fair trial.
The owner of an auto-repair shop sued Esso in federal district court, blaming the contamination on the company’s failure to comply with federal and state environmental regulations.
For more than two decades, Esso was the shop’s diesel fuel supplier and the owner of the underground storage tanks. The tanks allegedly leaked “petroleum-related substances” into the surrounding soil and groundwater.
After a two-day hearing, the district court granted the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered Esso to immediately comply with environmental regulations, investigate the contamination and clean up the site.
Esso argued that the order is invalid, because it means that “liability has been summarily determined without further discovery [and] without the benefit of a trial on the merits.”
The Boston-based federal appeals court agreed and vacated most of the order, but left intact the provisions requiring an environmental assessment of the supposedly contaminated site.