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Sycamore Industrial Park Associates v. Ericsson

January 9, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar


Sycamore Industrial Park Associates ("SIPA") filed a civil action against Ericsson, Inc. ("Ericsson") under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (the "CERCLA"), codified at 42 U.S.C. §9601 et seq., 26 U.S.C. §§4611-4612, 4661-4662 (2006) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (the "RCRA"), codified at 42 U.S.C. §6901 et seq. (2006) to compel Ericsson to remove asbestos located at a site SIPA purchased from Ericsson; to pay SIPA recovery costs that SIPA incurred or will incur in removing the asbestos; to pay a civil fine for each day Ericsson violated and continues to violate RCRA and the Illinois Environmental Protection Act; and other additional remedies. SIPA also brings Illinois common law claims of nuisance and negligence against Ericsson and seeks damages, restitution of all costs incurred by SIPA in the remediation of the site and an injunction to remove and abate the nuisance of asbestos. Ericsson now moves for summary judgment on all claims of the Complaint and SIPA moves for partial summary judgment on its RCRA and CERCLA claims. For the reasons stated in the opinion below, Ericsson's motion is GRANTED in part, and SIPA's motion is DENIED.


On May 30, 1985, Ericsson sold Michael Kreiger, an Ericsson employee until sometime in or around May 1985, an industrial park (the "Site") complete with finished buildings on 28 acres of land. Once the transaction closed Kreiger contemporaneously assigned his interests in the Site to SIPA. In his capacity as an Ericsson employee, Kreiger was in charge of preparing the Site for sale. Ericsson used a boiler-based heating system to provide heat throughout the buildings on the Site. The boiler-based system consists of boilers, pipes and other equipment containing asbestos insulation. The boilers are large mechanical units, structurally anchored to the floor of the buildings which house them at their bases, and are otherwise attached to the buildings through pipe runs. The pipe network that distributed heat is also physically attached to the boilers, and physically attached to the various buildings to and through which they run. Most of the pipe network runs near the ceilings of the several buildings, connected to the structures at intervals by metal fasteners or supports. The pipe network of the steam boiler system runs for thousands of linear feet through the structures comprising the Site.

Before eventually selling the Site to Kreiger, Ericsson leased part of the property to UARCO in December of 1984. Until January 1985, the complete boiler-based heating system was providing heat to the buildings of the Site. However, in the winter seasons of 1983 and 1984, the boiler-based system was working with increasing difficulty. When UARCO moved onto the Site in January 1985, Ericsson discontinued use of the boiler-based system in UARCO's buildings and began using a new non-asbestos containing heating system. Ericsson never removed the old heating system. Neither Krieger nor SIPA requested Ericsson to remove the old system. Despite the fact that the sales contract between Ericsson and Krieger states the purchase consists of "all parcels, buildings and improvements thereon,... together with all rights, titles, interests, hereditaments and appurtenances relative thereto, personal property, fixtures,... if any," SIPA claims it did not purchase the boiler system. According to Kreiger, he concluded in April 1985 that the boiler system was garbage and had to be shut down. He stated that Robert Boey, an Ericsson engineer in charge of determining how to provide heat to the Site's buildings and who reported to Kreiger, came to this conclusion in September 1983. Ericsson obviously concluded at some point that it was not economically reasonable to maintain, repair or operate the boiler-based system and so it ceased its use. Although the parties dispute what roles Krieger and Boey occupy in SIPA, it is undisputed that both former Ericsson employees are affiliated with SIPA in some capacity.

SIPA now claims that by discontinuing use of the boiler-based heating system containing asbestos insulation but not removing it from the Site, Ericsson abandoned it, thereby disposing of hazardous waste under the terms of CERCLA and RCRA. SIPA also claims that the old heating system is a common law nuisance and that leaving the system was an act of negligence that continues to harm SIPA.


Summary judgment will be granted only when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable finder of fact to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material if it can affect the outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law. Id. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Schuster v. Lucent Tech. Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003).

The movant bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. To successfully oppose the motion, the non-movant must designate these facts in affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions; the non-movant cannot rest on the pleadings alone. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.



Liability under CERCLA is established when the following four elements are met: (1) the site in question is a "facility" as defined by CERCLA; (2) the Defendant is a "responsible person" as defined by CERCLA; (3) there was a "release or threatened release" of hazardous substances; and (4) such release caused the Plaintiff to incur response costs. Envtl. Transp. Sys., Inc. v. ENSCO, Inc., 969 F.2d 503, 506 (7th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted); 3550 Stevens Creek Assocs. v. Barclays Bank, 915 F.2d 1355, 1358 (9th Cir.1990). In G. J. Leasing Co. v. Union Electric Company, a purchaser of a decommissioned power plant containing asbestos in its structure sued a former owner under CERCLA. 54 F.3d 379 (7th Cir. 1995). The Court held that "the sale of a product which contains a hazardous substance cannot be equated to the disposal of the substance itself or even the making of arrangements for its subsequent disposal." Id. at 384. SIPA attempts to evade the holding of G.J. Leasing by recasting its claim to the effect that Ericsson unlawfully disposed of asbestos when it stopped using a functionally obsolete heating system containing asbestos insulation out of service and left it on a site that it later sold. In G.J. Leasing, the entire facility was obsolete and useless and had thus been decommissioned and rendered dormant by the owner. 54 F.3d at 382. It was then sold to a salvager. Id. The Court recognized that the presence of asbestos played no role in the decision to decommission the facility. Id. Similarly, SIPA does not claim nor has it offered any evidence that the asbestos insulation on the boiler-based heating system motivated Ericsson to cease its use. Instead, SIPA continuously focuses on the fact that the boiler-based system was inoperable junk that was not worth the trouble of maintaining or repairing.

In 3550 Stevens Creek Associates, the Ninth Circuit declined to recognize a private cause of action under Section 107(a) of CERCLA for the voluntary removal of asbestos from a commercial building. 915 F.2d at 1365. After conducting a thorough analysis of the relevant sections and subsections of CERCLA and the Solid Waste Disposal Act, as amended by the RCRA, from which the definitions of certain terms used by CERCLA and RCRA are taken, the Court held that the installation of asbestos containing materials into a building did not amount to disposal of waste materials such that the plaintiff could pursue a CERCLA private cause of action against an owner of a commercial building. Id. The Court stated that "[o]n its face "disposal" pertains to 'solid waste or hazardous waste,' not to building materials which are neither." 915 F.2d at 1361. The Court ...

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