A federal court in Ohio has refused to stay state-law tort claims in a matter involving a CERCLA settlement agreement. Spears v. Chrysler, LLC, No. 08-311 (S.D. Ohio 2/8/11). The lawsuit was filed in 2008 by Dayton, Ohio, residents against an automobile-parts and analytical-instruments facility alleging that trichloroethylene and other ultra-hazardous substances were released from the facility and migrated onto their properties.

Seeking class certification, the plaintiffs alleged trespass, private nuisance, unjust enrichment, strict liability, negligence, negligence per se, medical monitoring, battery, intentional fraudulent concealment, and monetary damages, among other claims. Defendants moved to dismiss under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, citing a 2006 EPA administrative order on consent that required the company to conduct an investigation and cleanup. Federal courts may abstain from deciding a case on the basis of the primary jurisdiction doctrine, when administrative matters are involved, to allow the appropriate agency “the opportunity to interpret unanswered technical and factual issues.” A magistrate judge recommended that defendant’s motion be denied based on insufficient information provided regarding EPA’s investigation and remediation efforts. Defendant challenged the magistrate’s recommendation, arguing that the EPA investigation and its remediation efforts were still ongoing and the failure to dismiss plaintiff’s tort claims would interfere with that process.

Rejecting defendant’s arguments, the court held that it was premature for the court to rule on the defendant’s primary jurisdiction argument. According to the court, such arguments are normally decided “at the summary judgment stage of litigation, rather than at the motion to dismiss stage.” The court also said that the complaint does not sufficiently allege what injunctive relief is sought and therefore ordered plaintiffs to file an amended complaint to add “clarifying language as to whether they are seeking injunctive relief and, if so, what kind.”