(CN) - New Jersey landfill operators must face public nuisance claims for allegedly contaminating air and groundwater with volatile chemicals, a federal judge ruled.
Anthony and Marianne Corradetti own and operate a commercial property in Burlington County, N.J., near the Cinnaminson Groundwater Contamination Superfund Site, where Sanitary Landfill Inc., SC Holdings Inc. and others dump hazardous and other types of waste.
The Corradettis say that groundwater contaminated with arsenic and manganese, or volatile organic compounds such as chloroform and benzene, have migrated from the landfill into their property's soil and indoor air.
Together with their son, daughter and their company's independent contractor, the Corradettis sued Sanitary Landfill and SC Holdings for negligence, assault and battery, emotional distress, nuisance, trespass and other alleged wrongdoings.
Sanitary Landfill and SC Holdings removed the action from the Burlington County Superior Court to the District of New Jersey.
U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle in Camden struck several of the family's claims but refused to dismiss the claim for public nuisance.
Sanitary Landfill and SC Holdings had failed to show that the Corradettis lack standing to bring a groundwater contamination claim, according to the ruling.
"It simply does not hold that a private citizen cannot pursue a public nuisance claim for groundwater pollution," Simandle wrote. "The [New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection] commissioner may well be the trustee charged with protecting New Jersey's public resources, but that role does not preclude private citizens from seeking relief under common law torts."
She added that the Corradettis can also seek damages for this claim because they alleged special injuries distinct from alleged public injuries.
"Plaintiffs allege that they experienced special injuries because the defendants' pollution has contaminated their drinking water and migrated onto their property," the 21-page opinion states. "These injuries satisfy the special injury requirement, as they are separate from the general injury of contaminated groundwater that the public has endured."
The Corradettis were less successful with their claims under the Spill Act and Water Pollution Control Act (WPCA).
"Plaintiffs have acknowledged that they currently lack ripe Spill Act and WPCA claims, but plaintiffs could, in the future, have cognizable claims for relief," Simandle wrote. "When faced with unripe claims, the appropriate remedy is dismissal without prejudice."
Simandle also struck the claim for quality of life damages and merged it with the private nuisance claim.
"Plaintiffs have not shown that 'quality of life damage' is a cognizable, independent claim under New Jersey law," the ruling states. "There is no question that quality of life damages are permissible under nuisance law, but plaintiffs have not cited any cases establishing quality of life damage as an independent claim. Plaintiffs' quality of life damage claim is therefore redundant of their nuisance claim and confusing."
Sanitary Landfill and SC Holdings have 14 days to file an answer to the Corradettis' complaint.
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