NJ Trial Court Rules against NJDEP on NRD claim for failure to prove compensable harm or loss.

In NJDEP v. Essex Chemical Corporation, a trial court of the New Jersey Superior Court recently ruled that the NJDEP had failed to prove that contamination to ground water resulted in compensable harm or loss entitling the State to an award of natural resource damages (NRD.) Essex Chemical had owned and operated a facility where chlorinated volatile organic compounds were handled and later found in ground water. Essex commenced remedial actions under New Jersey law in 1984 and has continued to meet their obligations to conduct site remediation to the present day. The NJDEP commenced an action for NRD in 2007, contending that the contamination to the ground water has resulted in a compensable loss to the people of the State and entitles the State to damages under the NJ Spill Act. The evidence at trial demonstrated that the remedial work was approved by the NJDEP and complied with the regulations governing site remediation (Tech. Regs.). The State’s expert on resource economics utilized a resource equivalency approach (REA) to support his damage evaluation, positing that the value of the loss can be based upon the cost of land that would support the same recharge to the ground water of the area contaminated. The Court rejected the expert’s opinion holding that it was not convinced that the method of calculation of compensatory damages was proper for the resource in question. The Court acknowledged that the REA approach was appropriate for loss of wildlife (e.g. fish, birds), or where the contamination has an effect on human health. Where, however, no such harm was identified, the Court did not accept the expert’s method of assigning values “to things that are normally invaluable,” presented as “non-use” values. Since there was no evidence that the land in question will be developed nor any evidence that there was an intention to use the ground water or what it’s “non-use” value would be, the court found in favor of Essex Chemical and dismissed the claims. DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis & Lehrer, PC is a full service law firm in New Jersey which provides a broad range of legal services, including the representation of clients in environmental and defense of toxic exposure matters. For additional information about the matters in this bulletin or in the firm’s environmental practice, please contactSteven A. Kunzman, Esq. who heads our Environmental and Latent Injury Litigation Department.

DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum PC (http://www.dbnjlawblog.com) is a full service law firm in New Jersey which provides a broad range of legal services. For additional information about the matters in this bulletin or in the firm’s Employment Practice, please contact Richard P. Flaum, Esq.

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