Plastics Company Loses Round to USA

     (CN) – A plastic packaging company cannot stay consideration of Uncle Sam’s motion to amend claims that it polluted New Jersey public waters, a federal judge ruled.
     The United States sued Pechiney Plastic Packaging on Nov. 6, 2009, to recover costs from cleaning up hazardous substances at the Pohatcong Valley Groundwater Contamination Superfund Site, which includes parts of Washington Borough, Washington Township, Franklin Township, and Greenwich Township in Warren County, N.J.
     The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection found elevated levels of volatile organic contaminants, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene, in the late 1970s, then installed water lines to provide a municipal water supply in Washington and Franklin townships between 1985 and 1989.
     The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1988 began investigating the contamination and the risks posed to public health and the environment. The EPA’s feasibility study covered three areas known as operable units.
     The chemicals were detected in Washington Township public supply wells, which treat the water to drinking water standards, according to the EPA.
     The agency said the site’s groundwater contaminant plume is about 9 miles long by nearly 1.5 miles wide, covering about 2,746 acres.
     The government in February this year moved to amend and supplement its complaint, seeking to add six defendants and in rem claims against real estate in Washington Township.
     Pechiney Plastic opposed the motion and moved for summary judgment on March 18. It also sought to stay the U.S.’s motion to amend, pending resolution of the summary judgment motion.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Tonianne Bongiovanni, in Trenton, refused to stay the litigation last week, holding that the likelihood of granting Pechiney summary judgment is “too speculative” to warrant staying consideration of the motion to amend.
     “Given the speculative nature of the risk that this court and the parties will needlessly spend resources litigating issues that may become moot if PPPI’s [Pechiney Plastic Packaging Inc.’s] motion for summary judgment is granted,” Bongiovanni wrote, Pechiney Plastic failed to establish that it will suffer a clear hardship absent the requested stay.
     “Additionally, the court disagrees with PPPI’s contention that the United States will not be prejudiced if the stay is granted,” the judge added. “Instead, the court finds that because the United States’ primary objective in bringing this suit is to hold polluting parties accountable for the costs of cleanup, a delay in pursing [sic] expeditious cost recovery against such polluting parties prejudices both the United States’ interest and the public interest.”
     The court withheld ruling on the motion to amend.
     “In light of the significant efforts that the parties and the court have already put into the litigation of this matter, the court is not convinced that the interest of judicial economy will be best served by staying this case,” Bongiovanni wrote. “Similarly, the court finds that the risk that the parties will unnecessarily expend additional time and money as a result of undertaking further motion practice and discovery as to the proposed new defendants is too remote to support PPPI’s claim that it, along with the United States, and the proposed new defendants will suffer a hardship or inequity if required to proceed with this litigation before PPPI’s motion for summary judgment is resolved. Thus, the court declines to exercise its discretion to enter a stay in this matter.”

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