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Court Dismisses $4B Claim Brought by New Mexico against General Electric.

news | September 7, 2004

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico issued its 67-page final summary judgment opinion dismissing the State of New Mexico’s natural resource damages claims against the Firm’s client General Electric and other defendants in connection with the South Valley Superfund Site in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  New Mexico had brought claims seeking damages under CERCLA and state common law for groundwater contamination allegedly emanating from a manufacturing site that was the subject of ongoing EPA remediation.  The lawsuit was filed by the New Mexico Attorney General, but was prosecuted by private plaintiffs’ attorneys, and was intended as a test case for similar NRD claims across the country.  Plaintiffs presented expert testimony that the State’s claim was valued in excess of four billion dollars.  Following the initiation of this lawsuit, the State of New Jersey announced that it too would begin pursuing claims against companies in its state for natural resource damages.

After extensive briefing on both summary judgment and Daubert issues, a six-day evidentiary Daubert hearing, and nearly twenty-five days of pretrial hearings, the Court issued a series of lengthy legal and evidentiary rulings in which it rejected plaintiffs’ legal theories of recovery, excluded plaintiffs’ experts’ opinions, and granted summary judgment to defendants.  Among the court’s rulings were: (a) holding that drinking water standards rather than pristine conditions was the proper benchmark for determining injury, (b) rejecting the State’s claim that it was entitled to seek market-based damages to replace the alleged injured resource, (c) holding that CERCLA preempted state law claims unless they were outside the scope of CERCLA and the EPA remedy at the site, and (d) rejecting the opinions of the State’s expert hydrologist, civil engineer, and economist on fitness grounds under Daubert.