Marrella v. Underpass Auto Parts Co.
The responsible corporate officer doctrine applies to Water Pollution Control Act and not to aquifer protection regulation violations. The commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection filed an enforcement action in connection with a motor-vehicle recycling facility that is located about 1,500 feet from public water supplies. The commissioner alleged that the defendants failed to obtain a permit to discharge stormwater, polluted the waters of the state and failed to comply with aquifer protection regulations. Tests of soil and groundwater indicated the presence of nickel, lead, copper, zinc and petroleum hydrocarbons. The court found that the defendants polluted and discharged substances into the waters of the state. The defendants may not deny responsibility on the basis that discharges were not intentional. Activities at the site establish past violations of the aquifer regulations and the potential for future danger to the aquifer. The responsible corporate officer doctrine applies to the violations of the Water Pollution Control Act and not to violations of the aquifer regulations. The court did not find Dwain Thibodeau, a 73-year-old vice president of the defendants who makes environmental decisions, personally responsible for violations of the aquifer regulations. Although Thibodeau claimed that thousands of tires were present when his company acquired the property, he failed to prove pollution of soil and water existed under the prior owner. The court granted judgment to the prior owner. "[I]n a business that necessarily generates automobile waste products that are hazardous to the public water supply," wrote the court, "the operator defendants simply have not been careful enough and have not invested sufficient resources, to prevent continuous contamination of the soil." The commissioner did not prove significant pollution to waters of the state. The court rejected the commissioner's request for a $400,000 fine as "overkill" and ordered the defendants to pay a fine of $8,000, pursuant to the Water Pollution Control Act, and a fine of $2,000, under the aquifer protection statute. The court ordered the defendants to hire environmental consultants to test groundwater and to remediate any violations, so that they are in compliance with stormwater and aquifer statutes.