Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - January 10, 2012 - Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP partner, Joseph J. McGovern, recently brought to favorable resolution a long-running bitter dispute in which the EPA had been attempting to collect over $30 million it squandered at a Superfund Site on the Delaware waterfront in Philadelphia from an individual who EPA asserted was an owner of the Site based on a partnership share he acquired as a gift when he was a minor.
Between 1997 and 1998 EPA spent $18 million in an unsupervised “emergency removal” at the site. In the ensuing years it spent nearly a like sum on a variety of activities, including $5 million for a tarpaulin to “permanently” cover a pile of commercially usable sand blasting grit that will not be used. EPA threatened to sue seeking to impose liability, jointly and severally, for all of its costs on several individuals, including McGovern's 86-year-old client whose interest had been conveyed to him, as a gift, when he was a minor. There was no evidence that the alleged “owner” was otherwise connected to the Site. After years of negotiation, the EPA sued in the US District Court for the Eastern District seeking recovery of all of its costs. Ultimately, McGovern achieved an “ability-to- pay” settlement with full releases and a covenant not to sue in favor of the alleged owner. In a departure from its usual stance, the EPA agreed to accept, in lieu of cash, an assignment of insurance policies. The policies were discovered through the work of “insurance archeologists” McGovern had retained at an early stage to assist with preparation of defense of the claim. Last month, the court approved the settlement and entered it as a consent decree.
Joseph McGovern chairs the firm's Environmental Law Department. For over 20 years, McGovern has focused his practice on environmental law and litigation.