Estate of Prior Operators Sued for Chemical Recovery Costs Under CERCLA

A complaint was filed on Monday in the Northern District of California by plaintiff San Mateo Investment Co. (SMIC) against defendants The Estate of Robert Masciola, Martin Franchises Inc., Eaton Corporation PLC, Miu Chiang Jue, Clemen Jue, Mabel Wong, and Does 1-10. The complaint alleges that the defendants are liable for recovery costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) due to their role as operators at the plaintiff’s property.

The complaint recounted that from 1960 to 1977, defendant Masciola operated a dry-cleaning establishment at a property owned by the plaintiff in San Mateo, California. After 1977, the dry-cleaning establishment took different ownership until 1988. The establishment was a franchise of the larger Martin Franchise. Specific guidelines were given by Martin Franchises regarding “the dry-cleaning process and use and handling of perchloroethylene (PCE), a hazardous substance and the primary ingredient used in dry cleaning equipment.”

The San Mateo County Health Department Environmental Health Services Groundwater Protection program contacted the new owner of the property in 2016 to inform them that PCE had been detected near the property. Previous owners of the property were also notified and their participation in environmental investigation and cleanup activities was requested.

The plaintiff explains that they conducted environmental investigations at the property without any contribution from the defendants. The investigations determined that PCE and its degradation products were present in the soil beneath the property. The complaint asserts that “the presence of PCE is a result of, inter alia, sudden and accidental leaks and spills from dry cleaning equipment that at times was owned and operated” by the defendants.

SMIC has incurred all the costs of performing investigations into the property and explains that further testing and cleanup activities may be required. They are seeking cost recovery from the defendants as CERCLA requires that “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” to provide the necessary costs of correction. Since each of the defendants was an operator of the facility, the plaintiff argues that they are liable for response costs under CERCLA.

The plaintiff is seeking declaratory relief, cost recovery, litigation fees, and any other relief deemed just by the Court.

SMIC is represented by Edgcomb Law Group, LLP.