U.S. Second Circuit - The FindLaw 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Long Island Water Contamination Suit Time-Barred

Time heals all injuries, except perhaps damages from contaminated water in Bethpage, Long Island.

It's a legal reality because the statute of limitations has ended claims in Bethpage Water District v. Northrup Grumman Corporation. A federal appeals court said the plaintiffs waited too long to sue for groundwater contamination caused by the company's industrial work.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said Bethpage waited until 2013 to sue, despite learning about groundwater contamination there between 2007 and 2009.

Three-Year Statute

The appeals court affirmed dismissal of the case, and considered when the three-year statute of limitations for groundwater pollution accrued. The plaintiffs argued that it didn't accrue until sometime after contamination was detected in the water.

The Long Island Aquifer System is the sole source of drinking water for residents of Bethpage. In the late 1930s, Grumman started manufacturing heavy military and industrial equipment in the town.

At some point, certain compounds from the Grumman site began to pollute the groundwater system. In 2007, environmental consultants confirmed the contamination and recommended remedial actions. In 2009, Bethpage demanded Grumman pay for certain "emergency" improvements.

In November 2013, however, Bethpage sued Grumman for negligence, trespass, nuisance and other damages based on more studies. A federal district court granted summary judgment against those claims as time-barred.

Sufficient Knowledge

Judge Denny Chin, writing for the appeals court, said the water district did well to protect the water at the time it first learned of the water contamination.

"Indeed, as a responsible water provider, it was undeniably in possession of facts requiring such action," he wrote for the court. "Those facts also, however, triggered the running of the statute of limitations."

The appeals court said Bethpage could not "credibly claim that it lacked sufficient knowledge for the limitations period to begin."

Alani Golanski, an attorney for the water district, said they will seek en banc review.

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