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State v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 12, 2018

THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO on behalf of the NEW MEXICO ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY; GINA MCCARTHY in her official capacity as Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency; ENVIRONMENTAL RESTORATION, LLC; KINROSS GOLD CORPORATION; KINROSS GOLD U.S.A., INC.; and SUNNYSIDE GOLD CORPORATION, Defendants. and NAVAJO NATION, a federally recognized Indian Tribe, on its own behalf, and as parens patriae on behalf of the Navajo people, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY; ENVIRONMENTAL RESTORATION, LLC; HARRISON WESTERN CORPORATION; GOLD KING MINES CORPORATION; SUNNYSIDE GOLD CORPORATION; KINROSS GOLD CORPORATION; KINROSS GOLD U.S.A., INC.; and DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Environmental Restoration, LLC's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint [Doc. 1] and Motion to Strike [Doc. 32], pertaining to the Complaint filed by the State of New Mexico; and Defendant Environmental Restoration, LLC's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint [Doc. 1] and Motion to Strike [Doc. 101], pertaining to the Complaint filed by the Navajo Nation. The Court has considered the submissions, the relevant law, and is otherwise fully advised in the premises. The Court grants-in-part, denies-in-part, and, in-part, holds in abeyance ER's Motions.

         This opinion addresses all arguments raised by Defendant Environmental Restoration (hereafter, ER) with the exception of its arguments based on the jurisdictional bar set forth at 42 U.S.C. § 6972(b)(2)(B)(ii) and 42 U.S.C. § 9613(h). The Court has requested additional briefing and evidence with respect to whether certain of Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the above provisions, and the briefing, which remains in progress. Nonetheless, the Court herein addresses the remaining issues raised by ER.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Posture

         On May 23, 2016, New Mexico filed its Complaint stemming from the Gold King mine spill which occurred on August 5, 2015. [16-CV-465, Doc. 1][1] On August 16, 2016, the Navajo Nation filed its Complaint based on the Gold King mine spill. [16-CV-931, Doc. 1] On November 28, 2016, this Court consolidated the two cases. [Doc. 90] Both Plaintiffs filed motions for leave to amend their complaints. [Doc. 86; Doc. 141]

         Generally, both Plaintiffs allege that, while conducting environmental remediation of the Gold King Mine in Colorado, the Environmental Protection Agency (hereafter, EPA), ER (a contractor for the EPA), and others “breached a collapsed portal” of the mine, “releasing over three million gallons of acid mine drainage and 880, 000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River watershed.” [Doc. 1, ¶ 1; accord. 16-CV-931, Doc. 1, ¶ 1] The acid mine drainage traveled down-river, into the San Juan River, into New Mexico, and into the Navajo Nation, causing extensive environmental and economic damage. [Doc. 1, ¶¶ 1-3; 16-CV-931, Doc. 1, ¶¶ 4, 24]

         New Mexico brings six causes of action against ER: cost recovery and declaratory judgment under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA); injunctive relief under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); public nuisance; trespass; and “negligence and gross negligence.” [Doc. 1, pp. 32-48; Doc. 86-1, pp. 41-61] Navajo Nation brings seven causes of action against ER: cost recovery and declaratory judgment under CERCLA; negligence; gross negligence; trespass; public nuisance; and private nuisance. [16-CV-931, Doc. 1, pp. 34-46; Doc. 141-1 pp. 46-58');">58');">58');">58] ER challenges each cause of action by both Plaintiffs. [Doc. 32; Doc. 101]

         While both Plaintiffs have moved for leave to amend their complaints [Doc. 86; Doc. 141], those motions are opposed and remain pending.[2] On January 23, 2017, this Court entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order[3] stating that this Court will consider whether dismissal of the proposed amended complaints would be appropriate in light of the various Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, thus analyzing whether the proposed amended complaints would be futile. [Doc. 118, p. 6');">p. 6] The Court further rejected ER's arguments that New Mexico's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint was untimely and that it prejudiced ER. [Doc. 118, pp. 6');">p. 6-7] Having addressed these issues, the only issue remaining to be considered in determining whether to grant New Mexico's (as well as Navajo Nation's) Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint is whether amendment would be futile. Accordingly, for purposes of the ER's Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs' claims, the Court considers the facts as alleged in the Proposed Amended Complaints, thereby conducting the futility analysis. [Doc. 86-1; Doc. 141-1] If dismissal is proper as against ER based on the facts alleged therein, then amendment of the claims as against ER would be futile and the claims against ER must be dismissed.

         Finally, on December 11, 2017, ER filed a Motion to Transfer for Coordinated or Consolidated Pretrial Proceedings Under 28 U.S.C. § 1407 with the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. [Doc. 191-1] Thereafter, the United States filed a Motion to Temporarily Stay Proceedings Pending Decision by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. [Doc. 191] Some parties oppose the Motion to Stay, or oppose only a delay of the decision on their pending motions to dismiss. [Doc. 191, p. 2; Docs. 192, 195, 199] The Court does not address the Motion to Stay [Doc. 191] in this Memorandum Opinion and Order. The Court exercises its discretion to rule on the present motion only, concluding that no cause has been shown to stay the issuance of this decision, including the factors of judicial economy and avoiding hardships and inequities to the moving party. See Pace v. Merk & Co., Inc., CIV 04-1356 MCA/ACT, 2005 WL 6125457, *1 (D.N.M. 2005) (recognizing the district court has the discretion to stay a case when a motion to transfer proceedings is pending and listing the factors the district court should consider).

         B. Allegations

         New Mexico alleges:

On August 5, 2015, EPA, EPA's contractors, and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (“DRMS”), used an excavator to dig away tons of rock and debris that blocked the portal of the Gold King Mine. Water had been building in the mine and seeping out of the portal for years, and EPA, the contractors, and Colorado officials knew the water was highly acidic and laced with heavy metals. Colorado's records and EPA's work plan not only recognized that the mine was filled with water, but also highlighted the risk of a significant blowout-especially if workers attempted to dig away the blockage. Yet, the work plan ignored this well-understood risk. In fact, EPA's lead official at the Gold King Mine-who was on vacation when the crew triggered the release-had ordered EPA and DRMS employees and EPA's contractor not to excavate the earthen debris blocking the portal and not to drain the mine without setting up equipment to handle the discharge. Further, the lead EPA official-recognizing the hazards at the site-told the crew to wait to excavate until after he returned from vacation and consulted with an engineer from the Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation about the risks of EPA's actions at the site. Despite the clear dangers and explicit directions of EPA's project leader, the on-site crew dug into the portal without verifying the hydraulic pressure or taking necessary precautions-with catastrophic consequences.

[Doc. 86-1, ¶ 4]

         New Mexico alleges that mining operations at the Gold King Mine ceased in 1992 [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 30] and, in 2004, the Level 7 adit[4] collapsed. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 63] The Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology inspected the Gold King mine in 1996 and found that it drained one to two gallons of acid mine drainage per minute. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 53] ¶ 1996 a neighboring mine, the Sunnyside Mine, was sealed using a bulkhead (and a second bulkhead was installed in 2001), causing acid mine drainage to travel through a connecting tunnel, the American Tunnel, to the Gold King Mine. [Doc. 86-1, ¶¶ 39-41] As a result of the collapsed adit and the acid mine drainage from the American Tunnel, Gold King Mine's discharge grew to between 150 and 200 gallons per minute, depending on the season, by 2007. [Doc. 86-1, ¶¶ 53, 63]

         In 2008 and 2009, in an attempt to address the acid mine drainage, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) “secured” the Level 7 adit portal, installed a “grated closure . . . to facilitate drainage, ” diverted the drainage, and then backfilled the Level 7 adit. [Doc. 86-1, ¶¶ 67-68] DRMS planned to install a drainage pipe at the floor of the adit, however, when they attempted to install an observation pipe, the timbers supporting the portal collapsed, and DRMS was never able to complete installation of its originally planned drainage pipe. [Doc. 86-1, ¶¶ 68-72]

         “In 2014, DRMS asked EPA to re-open the Gold King Mine Level 7 adit and investigate the drainage situation.” [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 78] “EPA requested a work plan for the Gold King Mine investigation from Environmental Restoration and issued a ‘Task Order Statement of Work' (‘Statement of Work') on June 25, 2014.” [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 79] ER submitted a RFP and EPA selected ER as a contractor, “task[ing] Environmental Restoration with ‘procur[ing] and manag[ing] the reopening and ground support construction at the Upper Gold King Mine - 7 level adit.'” [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 80] EPA's Request for Proposal (RFP) also states that ER would select a subcontractor and “‘conduct operations in oversight management of surface and underground work activities.'” [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 80] EPA, along with one of the sub-contractors, began work in September, 2014, however, after two hours of excavation the crew “abruptly stopped work” and EPA, ER and others determined “that the drainage would require larger settling ponds and additional treatment.” [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 83] “[B]efore EPA left the site [in 2014], the construction crew pushed large quantities of earthen material and debris in front of the DRMS-installed pipes, forming an earthen plug that prevented the mine from draining and caused a head of water to further build up behind the blockage.” [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 88]

         EPA asked employees of another contractor, Weston Solutions, to prepare a report, and EPA's on-scene coordinator[5] submitted the report to EPA Region 8. [Doc. 86-1, ¶¶ 84-85] This report stated that drainage pipe installed by DRMS were “adjacent to the adit roof, ” in contrast to earlier DRMS records which stated that the pipe was at the adit floor. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 85] Based on the purportedly erroneous conclusion that the pipe was at the roof, EPA's report stated that the adit floor was six feet below the level of the waste dump surface, again contrary to DRMS's records. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 86] Further, New Mexico alleges, the EPA “fail[ed] to test and confirm the amount of water behind the adit” despite successfully using this practice on two adjacent mines. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 87]

         In May and June, 2015, ER submitted draft work plans to EPA to continue work on the Gold King Mine. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 90] EPA, ER, and other contractors visited the site several times “to assess site conditions and drainage flows[;]” collect water samples, grade the surface of the waste dump, and begin construction on a water management and treatment system. Nonetheless, no Defendant tested the “hydrostatic pressure behind the blocked portal.” [Doc. 86-1, ¶¶ 90-92] On July 23, 2015, Steven Way, EPA's on-scene coordinator, contacted a Bureau of Reclamation engineer to conduct an independent review of the excavation plans. Mr. Way arranged for the review to be conducted on August 14, 2015, after Mr. Way returned from vacation. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 93] Mr. Way further arranged for another EPA employee, Mr. Griswold, to supervise the Gold King Mine site from August 3, 2015 until Mr. Way returned from vacation. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 94]

On July 29, 2015, Mr. Way emailed specific instructions about the scope and timing of work at the Gold King Mine site to Matt Francis (Environmental Restoration), Elliot Petri (Weston Solutions), and Allen Sorenson (DRMS). Later that day, Mr. Way forwarded these instructions to Mr. Griswold. Mr. Way's instructions set out the “priority and strategy” for on-site work during the week of August 3.

[Doc. 86-1, ¶ 95] Before excavation of the earthen debris blocking the adit was to start, Mr. Way instructed ER to “provide ‘adit drainage control' and implement a ‘water management system[, ]'” including setting up a pipe and filter bags; putting a sump and sump-pump in place to “handle adit discharge”; putting piping or a hose in place to direct discharge to a treatment pond; and ensuring that a “stinger pipe” was prepared and available. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 95]

         On August 4, 2015, after Mr. Griswold arrived, “the EPA crew” began excavating the adit and drug out all but a small portion of the drainage pipe that DRMS installed in 2009. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 96] New Mexico alleges this work was done “[w]ith an incomplete safety plan, an inadequate evaluation of the fluid hazard, and lacking any equipment to prevent or mitigate an uncontrolled release of water from the mine.” [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 96] The next day, August 5, 2015, the “EPA crew” resumed excavating the Level 7 adit, when a backhoe operator hit a “spring.” [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 98-99] New Mexico alleges that because “the pipes were visibly well below the plug, the EPA crew knew or should have known they were removing material at least several feet below the roof of the adit.” [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 98] No one present attempted to plug the spring or “blowout, ” and the blowout resulted in the release of over three million gallons of acid mine drainage and 880, 000 pounds of heavy metals from the Gold King Mine into the Animas River. [Doc. 86-1, ¶¶ 1, 99] The Animas River joins the San Juan River and travels through portions of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 1]

         In sum, New Mexico alleges:

[T]he work conducted by EPA, DRMS, Environmental Restoration, Weston Solutions, and Harrison Western in connection with the Gold King Mine amounted to reckless, careless, and grossly negligent conduct that was not driven or supported by social, economic, or public policy considerations. Furthermore, their actions substantially deviated from their own work plans, the mandatory directions given by Mr. Way, established engineering standards of care, and applicable federal and state regulations.

[Doc. 86-1, ¶ 111]

         The Navajo Nation's Complaint alleges similar allegations as a basis for relief. To the extent the allegations differ between the Navajo Nation and New Mexico, those differences are addressed below as pertinent to the analysis of the present motions.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard Governing Motions To Dismiss

         ER brings its Motions to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Fed. Civ. P. Rule 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to set out “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” In Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the Supreme Court held that: “to withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must have enough allegations of fact, taken as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Kansas Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1214 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). In applying this test, a court accepts as true all “plausible, non-conclusory, and non-speculative” facts alleged in the plaintiff's complaint, Shrader v. Biddinger, 633');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33 F.3d 1235, 1242 (10th Cir. 2011); provided, that “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In short, in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “a court should disregard all conclusory statements of law and consider whether the remaining specific factual allegations, if assumed to be true, plausibly suggest the defendant is liable.” Collins, 656 F.3d at 1214.

         B. CERCLA Cost Recovery and Declaratory Judgment

         Both New Mexico and the Navajo Nation bring claims pursuant to CERCLA against ER for cost recovery (42 U.S.C. § 9607(a)) and a declaratory judgment (42 U.S.C. § 9613((g)(2)). [Doc. 1, ¶¶ 96-115');">115');">115');">115; 16-CV-931, Doc. 1, ¶¶ 117-141]

         “Congress enacted CERCLA to facilitate the expeditious cleanup of environmental contamination caused by hazardous waste releases . . . and to establish a financing mechanism to abate and control the vast problems associated with abandoned and inactive hazardous waste disposal sites.” Young v. United States, 58');">58');">58');">58');">394 F.3d 858');">58');">58');">58, 862 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “Thus, the twin aims of CERCLA are to [clean up] hazardous waste sites and impose the costs of such cleanup on parties responsible for the contamination.” Id.

The elements of a prima facie case of liability under § 9607(a) require a showing (1) that the defendant is a “covered person” under CERCLA; (2) that a “release” or “threatened release” of any “hazardous substance” at the site in question has occurred; (3) that the release or threatened release caused plaintiff to incur costs; (4) that plaintiff's costs are “necessary” costs of response; and (5) that plaintiff's response action or cleanup was consistent with the [National Contingency Plan].

Morrison Enters. v. McShares, Inc., 302 F.3d 1127, 1135-36 (10th Cir. 2002).

         ER disputes that it is a covered person under Section 9607(a). [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p. 7; Doc. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102, p. 6');">p. 6] Section 9607(a) imposes liability for the cleanup of facilities on four categories of persons:

(1) the owner and operator of a vessel or a facility,
(2) any person who at the time of disposal of any hazardous substance owned or operated any facility at which such hazardous substances were disposed of,
(3) any person who by contract, agreement, or otherwise arranged for disposal or treatment, or arranged with a transporter for transport for disposal or treatment, of hazardous substances owned or possessed by such person, by any other party or entity, at any facility or incineration vessel owned or operated by another party or entity and containing such hazardous substances, and
(4) any person who accepts or accepted any hazardous substances for transport to disposal or treatment facilities, incineration vessels or sites selected by such person, from which there is a release, or a threatened release which causes the incurrence of response costs, of a hazardous substance[.]

42 U.S.C. § 9607(a). Liability is imposed on such “covered persons” for:

(A) all costs of removal or remedial action incurred by the United States Government or a State or an Indian tribe not inconsistent with the national contingency plan;
(B) any other necessary costs of response incurred by any other person consistent with the national contingency plan;
(C) damages for injury to, destruction of, or loss of natural resources, including the reasonable costs of assessing such injury, destruction, or loss resulting from such a release; and
(D) the costs of any health assessment or health effects study carried out under section 9604(i) of this title.

         Section 9607(a)(4). “The term ‘release' means any spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying, discharging, injecting, escaping, leaching, dumping, or disposing into the environment.” 42 U.S.C. § 9601(22).

         Section 9613(g)(2) provides that:

In any such action described in this subsection, the court shall enter a declaratory judgment on liability for response costs or damages that will be binding on any subsequent action or actions to recover further response costs or damages. A subsequent action or actions under section 9607 of this title for further response costs at the vessel or facility may be maintained at any time during the response action, but must be commenced no later than 3 years after the date of completion of all response action. Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph, an action may be commenced under section 9607 of this title for recovery of costs at any time after such costs have been incurred.

42 U.S.C. § 9613(g)(2).

         Both Plaintiffs allege that ER is liable under CERCLA as an operator of a facility at which hazardous substances were disposed, as an arranger for the disposal or treatment of hazardous substances, and as a transporter of hazardous substances. [Doc. 1, ¶¶ 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102-104; Doc. 86-1, ¶¶ 128-130; 16-CV-931, Doc. 1, ¶¶ 123-126; Doc. 141-1, ¶¶ 153-155] ER argues that it does not fit into any of these categories of persons. [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p. 7; Doc. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102, p. 6');">p. 6]

         i. CERCLA Operator Liability

         CERCLA circuitously defines an “owner or operator” as “in the case of an onshore facility or an offshore facility, any person owning or operating such facility[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 9601(20)(A)(ii).

The term “facility” means (A) any building, structure, installation, equipment, pipe or pipeline (including any pipe into a sewer or publicly owned treatment works), well, pit, pond, lagoon, impoundment, ditch, landfill, storage container, motor vehicle, rolling stock, or aircraft, or (B) any site or area where a hazardous substance has been deposited, stored, disposed of, or placed, or otherwise come to be located; but does not include any consumer product in consumer use or any vessel.

42 U.S.C. § 9601(9).

         Given CERCLA's unhelpful definition of an operator, courts have come up with varying tests to determine operator liability. Having reviewed several cases, the Court finds the following summary particularly clear and succinct, including its discussion of United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51 (1998), the only Supreme Court case on the issue:

In United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51, 118 S.Ct. 1876, 141 L.Ed.2d 43 (1998), the Supreme Court stated that “under CERCLA, an operator is simply someone who directs the workings of, manages, or conducts the affairs of a facility.” Id. at 66, 118 S.Ct. 1876');">118 S.Ct. 1876. To be held liable for remediation costs, “an operator must manage, direct, or conduct operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste, or decisions about compliance with environmental regulations.” Id. “For one to be considered an operator, then, there must be some nexus between that person's or entity's control and the hazardous waste contained in the facility.” Geraghty & Miller, Inc. v. Conoco Inc., 234 F.3d 917, 928 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Corp. v. Catellus Dev. Corp., 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">338');">976 F.2d 133');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">338, 1341 (9th Cir. 1992)), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. United States, 556 U.S. 599, 129 S.Ct. 1870, 173 L.Ed.2d 812 (2009). “A court must decide whether a contractor is an operator after considering the totality of the circumstances concerning its involvement at the site.” Id.

Exxon Mobil Corp. v. U.S., 108 F.Supp.3d 486, 520 (S.D. Tex. 2015). Before Bestfoods, [6] a Circuit split developed between two tests: the “actual control” test and the “authority to control test.” See FMC Corp. v. Aero Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 842, 846 (10th Cir. 1993) (discussing the Circuit split and declining to “decide which approach is best because it is undisputed on the record that [the defendant] exercised actual control and personally participated in any conduct that violated CERCLA”); Redwing Carriers, Inc. v. Saraland Apartments, 94 F.3d 1489, 1504-05 (11th Cir. 1996) (discussing the two tests and the Circuit split). Bestfoods criticized the “actual control” test[7] but did not address the “authority to control” test. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. at 67. Instead, the Court relied on CERCLA's statutory language to determine the meaning of the word “operate, ” ultimately instructing courts to evaluate each party's involvement with or at a facility to determine whether that party operated the facility. Id. at 71-73. The Court held that “an operator must manage, direct, or conduct operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste, or decisions about compliance with environmental regulations.” Id. at 66-67.

         After Bestfoods, our Tenth Circuit decided the issue of whether a minority shareholder was liable as an operator under CERCLA, and, consistent with Bestfoods, did not apply either the “actual control” or “authority to control” test. Raytheon Constructors, Inc. v. Asarco Inc., 368 F.3d 1214, 1217 (10th Cir. 2003). The Court focused on the “necessary connection between the potential ‘operator' and the facility itself, ” stating that “operation is evidenced by participation in the activities of the facility.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Although the parties in this case spend some time briefing cases relying on both the actual control test and the authority to control test, in light of Bestfoods and Raytheon Constructors this Court is not persuaded that either test is appropriate. Instead, the Court must focus on the language of CERCLA itself and the principles set forth in Bestfoods. As set forth above, Bestfoods states: “an operator must manage, direct, or conduct operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste, or decisions about compliance with environmental regulations.” Bestfoods, 524 U.S. at 66 (emphasis added). Here, Plaintiffs allege that ER was directly involved in conducting operations at the facility. Plaintiffs allege that ER was responsible for providing drainage control, implementing a water management system, and constructing and maintaining the retention pond. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 79, 95; Doc. 141-1, ¶ 89] EPA selected ER to “procur[e] and manag[e] the reopening and ground support construction” of the Gold King Mine portal. [Doc. 86-1, ¶¶ 80; Doc. 141, ¶ 73] New Mexico alleges that ER was involved in the decision making concerning operation of the facility, including deciding in 2014 that larger settling ponds and additional treatment were necessary. [Doc. 86-1, ¶ 83] Navajo Nation quotes a May 2015 Action/Work Plan submitted by ER which lists the following tasks for ER and its subcontractor:

• Utilize ramp created in site set up to access slope above portal[.]
• Excavate loose material from the top of the high wall.
• Drill in wire mesh anchors.
• Hang wire mesh on the high wall as excavation to the sill of the portal proceeds.
• Excavate to the sill and into the competent rock face at the portal.
• Gradually lower the debris blockage with the appropriate pumping of the impounded water to water management/treatment system.

[Doc. 141-1, ¶ 89] Further and not least, ER was one of the parties present on August 4 and 5, 2015 and excavating at the time of the spill, contrary to the directions of Mr. Way. [Doc. 86-1, ¶¶ 96-100; Doc. 141-1, ¶¶ 101-104] These facts state a claim that ER “conducted] operations specifically related to [the] pollution.” Bestfoods, 524 U.S. at 66 (emphasis added). Contrary to ER's argument, these are not conclusory allegations. [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p. 8');">p. 8');">p. 8');">p. 8] Plaintiffs' allegations are sufficient to state a claim for operator liability.

         ER points to other allegations in the Complaints which suggest EPA controlled the activities at the Gold King Mine. [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p. 8');">p. 8');">p. 8');">p. 8; Doc. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102, p. 8');">p. 8');">p. 8');">p. 8] ER argues that these allegations require dismissal based on the analysis employed in Interstate Power Co. v. Kansas City Power and Light Co., 909 F.Supp. 1284, 1289 (N.D. Iowa 1994) (applying the authority to control test) and Ryland Group, Inc. v. Payne Firm, Inc., 492 F.Supp.2d 790, 793-94 (S.D. Ohio 2005). [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p. 10');">p. 10] In Interstate Power, the Court held that a contractor which performed demolition services was not liable as an operator because “[i]t is undisputed that all of [the contractor's] actions were taken at the direction of other parties.” Interstate Power, 909 F.Supp. at 1289. In Ryland Group, the Court held that a subcontracted company that was hired to “rototill the soil” of a contaminated area, thereby causing the contamination to spread, was not an operator. Ryland Group, Inc., 492 F.Supp.2d at 793-94. The Court reached this decision in part because it was the contractor, not the subcontractor, which investigated the contamination of the soil, developed a plan to remediate the contamination, performed sampling, and directly supervised the subcontractor, thereby “direct[ing] and control[ing] all activities that took place in the contaminated areas of the site.” Id. As this Court stated above, however, the Tenth Circuit applies neither the authority to control nor the actual control test, which are the basis for the decisions in Interstate Power and Ryland Group.[8] Further and alternatively, even if the Court were to apply Interstate Power and Ryland Group, the Court would conclude that dismissal is not appropriate. Once the facts are developed, it may be that ER lacked any control of the facility. However, given Plaintiffs' specific allegations as to the contractual duties of ER and ER's actual operation of the facility, the Court concludes that, as pleaded, Plaintiffs may be able to prove facts establishing that ER meets the definition of an operator.

         Other courts have held contractors liable as CERCLA operators. While some of these cases predate Bestfoods and apply either the actual control or authority to control test, the analysis in each of these cases is consistent with Bestfoods determination that:

[A]n operator is simply someone who directs the workings of, manages, or conducts the affairs of a facility. . . . [A]n operator must manage, direct, or conduct operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste, or decisions about compliance with environmental regulations.

Bestfoods, 524 U.S. at 66-67. In Kaiser Aluminum, the Ninth Circuit relied on the rule that operator liability attaches “if the defendant had authority to control the cause of the contamination at the time the hazardous substances were released into the environment.” Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Corp., 976 F.2d at 1341. In Kaiser Aluminum, the complaint alleged that the contractor excavated tainted soil, moved it, and “spread it over uncontaminated portions of the property.” Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Corp., 976 F.2d at 1342. The Court held that these allegations were sufficient to state a claim of operator liability against the contractor because the “activity which produced the contamination . . . occurred during . . . the construction process” performed by the contractor. Id. (emphasis in original). Further, the Fifth Circuit considered the operator provision in light of the definition of “disposal” in CERCLA, and concluded that a party that “moved, dispersed, or released [hazardous materials] during landfill excavations and fillings” could be liable as an operator. Tanglewood East Homeowners v. Charles-Thomas, Inc., 849 F.2d 1568, 1573 (5th Cir. 1988).

         Finally, a number of district courts have followed the analysis set forth in Kaiser Aluminum. See KFD Enters., Inc. v. City of Eureka, 2010 WL 4703887, *2-3 (N.D. Cal. 2010) (denying contractor's motion to dismiss where the plaintiff alleged that, during the course of drilling wells, the contractor “pierced aquitard, which caused release of contaminants into previously uncontaminated ground” and stating that operator liability merely requires the party to have control over the activity that causes the pollution); City of North Miami, Fla. v. Berger, 828 F.Supp. 401, 413-14 (E.D. Va. 1993) (stating “operator liability is clearly appropriate” for ABC, a landfill operation company, which “exercised actual physical control over the wastes” even though another party directed and controlled the work, because ABC “actually performed the construction and waste disposal work”); Ganton Techs v. Quadion Corp., p. 10');">p. 1018');">834 F.Supp. 10');">p. 1018, 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">1021-22 (N.D. Ill. 1993) (applying Kaiser to hold that “pollution clean-up contractors” are operators under CERCLA where the contractors dealt with the hazardous material and “controlled the activities in which the additional contamination took place-the clean up operations”). The Court finds the reasoning of these cases persuasive and holds that ER, as a contractor, may be liable as an operator.

         In sum, as pleaded by both New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, either Plaintiff may be able to establish a set of fact demonstrating that ER is liable as an operator, and thus a conclusion that ER was not an operator is not appropriate at this juncture.

         ii. CERCLA Arranger Liability

         Arranger liability is “intended to deter and, if necessary, to sanction parties seeking to evade liability by ‘contracting away' responsibility.” United States v. Gen. Elec. Co., 670 F.3d 377, 382 (1st Cir. 2012). Thus, liability for removal and remediation attaches to:

any person who by contract, agreement, or otherwise arranged for disposal or treatment, or arranged with a transporter for transport for disposal or treatment, of hazardous substances owned or possessed by such person, by any other party or entity, at any facility or incineration vessel owned or operated by another party or entity and containing such hazardous substances.

42 U.S.C. § 9607(a)(3).

         ER argues that it was not an arranger for three reasons. First, ER argues that the discharge was accidental, relying on Burlington Northern, 556 U.S. at 612 and AmcastIndus. Corp. v. Detrex Corp., 2 F.3d 746, 751 (7th Cir. 1993), and thus ER argues that it cannot be liable for the spill. [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p. 10');">p. 10; Doc. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102, p. 9] Second, ER argues that it did not arrange for disposal “by any other party or entity, ” as required by Section 9607(a)(3). [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p. 10');">p. 10; Doc. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102, p. 9] Finally, ER argues that Plaintiffs failed to plead factual allegations that ER controlled the treatment or disposal process. [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p. 11');">p. 11');">p. 11');">p. 11; Doc. 102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');">102');" ...


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