In this case the Third Circuit ruled that a property owner may be liable for the costs of an environmental cleanup that took place on the property before the current property owner acquired it.
Trainer purchased the property at issue for $20,000 after PA DEP spent $818,000 cleaning up the site. After acquisition, cleanup costs continued to mount due to pre-existing pollution, and due to Trainer demolishing buildings and causing further contamination. PA DEP sued for violations of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”). It sought to recover all of its response costs related to the Site, which totaled more than $900,000. On summary judgment the district court found Trainer liable for PA DEP’s response costs accruing after Trainer acquired the property, but not before. PA DEP filed an interlocutory appeal and the Third Circuit reversed. The Third Circuit found that the text of CERCLA allowed for the recovery of all costs, including those incurred before ownership commenced.