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Haber Land Co. Ltd. v. American Steel City Industrial Leasing, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

May 3, 2019

HABER LAND CO. LTD., Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN STEEL CITY INDUSTRIAL LEASING, INC., CATERPILLAR GLOBAL MINING, LLC, GE ENGINE SERVICES - UNC HOLDING I INC, LUCAS-FERMAT LLC, MOSEY REAL ESTATE, INC., MOSEY MANUFACTURING CO. INC., ALD INDIANA, LLC, GENERAL RECOVERY RECYCLING, LLC, Defendants.

          ENTRY

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         According to Haber Land Co. Ltd.'s (“Haber”) Amended Complaint in this matter, Haber acquired farmland in 2012 in Indiana. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (“IDEM”) inspected the property and observed foundry waste and coal product. A subsequent hazardous waste assessment revealed PCB contamination. Haber's lawsuit seeks to hold various predecessor owners of and operators on the property responsible for the contamination under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) and a variety of state-law theories. Two such defendants, Mosey Manufacturing Co. Inc. (“Mosey”) and Caterpillar Global Mining, LLC (“Caterpillar”), have filed motions to dismiss Haber's complaint for failure to state a claim. [Filing No. 42; Filing No. 50.] For the most part, the motions, and in particular Caterpillar's motion, demand far more of Haber than is required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Caterpillar has also filed a Motion to Dismiss Cross-Claims, arguing that because Haber's CERCLA claim fails, the Cross-claimants' derivative claims must fail as well. [Filing No. 118.] For the reasons described below, the Court DENIES Mosey's Motion to Dismiss, GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Caterpillar's Motion to Dismiss, and DENIES Caterpillar's Motion to Dismiss Cross-Claims.

         I.

         Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim that does not state a right to relief. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint provide the defendant with “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must accept all well-pled facts as true and draw all permissible inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Active Disposal Inc. v. City of Darien, 635 F.3d 883, 886 (7th Cir. 2011). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss asks whether the complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The Court may not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations as sufficient to state a claim for relief. See McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2011). Factual allegations must plausibly state an entitlement to relief “to a degree that rises above the speculative level.” Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2012). This plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         II.

         Background

         Consistent with the standard set forth above, the Court recites the relevant facts as detailed in Haber's Second Amended Complaint.[1] The complete web of property owners, operators, and successors in interest is detailed in the Second Amended Complaint, though just a few pieces of the web are relevant to Mosey and Caterpillar's motions.

         The property Haber purchased in Richmond, Indiana in September 2012 to use as farmland for crops was previously part of a larger parcel called the NATCO Site. [Filing No. 122 at 3.] Before the Bucyrus-Erie Company purchased the NATCO Site in November 1956, the Site had been used as farmland. [Filing No. 122 at 3.] The Bucyrus-Erie Company used the Site for drill manufacturing until it was purchased by another company in 1960. [Filing No. 122 at 3-4.] Caterpillar eventually acquired the Bucyrus-Erie Company.[2] [Filing No. 122 at 4.]

         In April 1991, Mosey acquired the NATCO Site. [Filing No. 122 at 4.] At the time, another company (for which Defendant Lucas-Fermat LLC is successor in interest) was lessee of a portion of the NATCO Site, which it used for a machine shop and call center. [Filing No. 122 at 5.] In July 1994, Mosey sold the NATCO Site to another Defendant called Mosey Real Estate, Inc., [Filing No. 122 at 5], against whom default has been entered, [Filing No. 89].

         In 2011, Mosey, along with Defendants Mosey Real Estate, Inc. and ALD Indiana, LLC, demolished buildings on the NATCO Site, including the “NATCO building, ” which contained PCBs, and disposed of waste from the NATCO Site.[3] [Filing No. 122 at 7.] The Defendants also dumped or released coal ash, industrial waste, and PCBs on the NATCO Site, including on the property eventually acquired by Haber. [Filing No. 122 at 8.] Caterpillar used heavy manufacturing machines containing PCBs. [Filing No. 122 at 7.] Transformers containing PCBs were removed from the NATCO Site at some point by one of the Defendants. [Filing No. 122 at 7.]

         In summer 2014, after Haber acquired its portion of the NATCO Site, IDEM inspected Haber's property and identified foundry waste and coal product, none of which was generated by Haber. [Filing No. 122 at 6.] IDEM required Haber to further investigate and dispose of the hazardous waste. [Filing No. 122 at 6.] In response, Haber hired an environmental consultant to perform an investigation, which determined that there was cinder and coal-ash waste and PCB contamination which predated Haber's purchase of its property. [Filing No. 122 at 6.] IDEM and the EPA have directed Haber to remediate the PCB contamination on its property. [Filing No. 122 at 6.]

         Haber thereafter notified the Defendants and the EPA of its intent to sue for Defendants' actions in contaminating its property. [Filing No. 122 at 8.] Haber brought suit in this Court on December 31, 2018, [Filing No. 1], and on May 2, 2019, filed its currently-operative Second Amended Complaint, [Filing No. 60]. The Second Amended Complaint alleges six counts against each Defendant; Haber's trespass claim, which both movants sought to dismiss, was previously dismissed by stipulation. [Filing No. 81.] Remaining are claims under the Indiana Environmental Legal Actions statute, Ind. Code § 13-30-9-1 et seq. (Count I); Indiana's nuisance statute, Ind. Code § 32-30-6-6 et seq. (Count II); CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. § 9607 (Counts III and IV); the illegal dumping provision of Indiana Code section 13-30-3-13 (Count V); and the Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”), 15 U.S.C. § 2619 (Count VI). [Filing No. 122.]

         On March 6, 2019, Mosey filed its Partial Motion to Dismiss as to Count II of Haber's remaining claims. [Filing No. 42.] On March 8, 2019, Caterpillar filed its Motion to Dismiss, seeking to dismiss all of Haber's claims against it. [Filing No. 50.] Both motions to dismiss are fully briefed. The Cross-claimants have not yet responded to Caterpillar's Motion to Dismiss Cross-Claims, [Filing No. 118], but as Caterpillar's Motion explains, its motion seeks to dismiss the crossclaims for contribution under the CERCLA and is wholly dependent upon the Court finding Haber's CERCLA claim to be deficient. The Court can assess the sufficiency of Haber's CERCLA claim based upon the parties' briefing on the Motions to Dismiss, which will also resolve the merits of Caterpillar's Motion to Dismiss Cross-Claims. All three pending motions are therefore ripe for decision.

         III.

         Discussion

         Caterpillar's arguments fall generally into two categories. The first is comprised of fundamentally legal arguments-namely, that Haber's nuisance, illegal dumping and TSCA claims fail as a matter of law and would fail as a matter of law regardless of the detail Haber may add to its complaint. Mosey's argument, applicable just to Haber's nuisance claim, also falls into this first category.

         The second includes pleading arguments. Caterpillar broadly contends that Haber has missed the mark in pleading plausible claims against it.[4]

         The Court begins by addressing the legal arguments directed against Haber's nuisance, illegal dumping, and TSCA claims before turning to the alleged pleading issues in Haber's Second Amended Complaint.

         A. Nuisance

         Both movants contend that Haber cannot maintain a nuisance claim based upon a prior landowners' actions, relying primarily on district court cases interpreting Indiana law. [Filing No. 43 at 5-7; Filing No. 43 at 15-16.] Mosey additionally argues that Haber's claim fails because there is presently no nuisance to abate or enjoin. [Filing No. 43 at 7.]

         In response, Haber clarifies that its nuisance claim is based upon the Defendants' ownership and maintenance of a nuisance on the adjoining land-specifically, on the larger NATCO Site, of which Haber's property is only one portion. [Filing No. 77 at 3-7; Filing No. 78 at 16-20.]

         The movants reiterate their arguments in reply and emphasize that a nuisance claim is unavailable because they owned the NATCO Site and engaged in the alleged conduct years before Haber acquired its portion of the property. [Filing No. 91 at 3-8; Filing No. 92 at 14-16.]

         Notwithstanding the insight provided by the federal courts' interpretation of Indiana law, the Indiana Supreme Court (whose caselaw is binding as to Haber's state-law claims, see BMD Contractors, Inc. v. Fid. & Deposit Co. of Maryland, 679 F.3d 643, 648 (7th Cir. 2012)) counsels that the Court's “first task when interpreting a statute is to give its words their plain meaning.” J.D.M. v. State, 68 N.E.3d 1073, 1077 (Ind. 2017) (internal quotation omitted). This guidance dictates that the Court begin with the text of the nuisance statute:

         Whatever is:

(1) injurious to ...

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