The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court’s allocation of response costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). PCS Nitrogen Inc. v. Ashley II of Charleston LLC, No. 11-1662 (4th Cir. 4/4/13).

At issue was property used for phosphate fertilizer plants that operated from 1884 to 1971. A property developer, Ashley II, purchased a portion of the site in 2003 intending to remediate and develop it. After spending about $170,000 on remediation efforts, Ashley II sued former and present owners of other parcels associated with the fertilizer operation, as well as companies or their alleged successors that had owned and operated the fertilizer plants from 1906 until 1972.

After a bench trial, the district court held that multiple defendants were potentially responsible parties (PRPs) at the site and allocated liability among plaintiff and all defendants. On appeal, several defendants challenged the conclusion that they were liable as PRPs. The Fourth Circuit upheld determinations that a company had assumed liabilities in connection with an asset purchase and that various past and present owners of portions of the site were PRPs.

The Fourth Circuit also upheld the district court’s liability allocation. A former operator and the successor to another former operator were allocated 45 percent and 30 percent, respectively, based on the extent to which their operations contributed to site conditions. Ashley II, the company that bought the site intending to clean it up, was allocated 5 percent of the liability. Other owners were allocated between 0 percent (a city to which a roadway on part of the property had been donated) to 16 percent.