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Siltronic Corporation v. Employers Insurance Co. of Wausau

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

January 14, 2015

SILTRONIC CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation Plaintiff,
v.
EMPLOYERS INSURANCE COMPANY OF WAUSAU, a Wisconsin corporation; GRANITE STATE INSURANCE COMPANY, a Pennsylvania corporation; CENTURY INDEMNITY COMPANY, a Pennsylvania corporation; and FIREMAN'S FUND INSURANCE COMPANY, a California corporation, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

JANICE M. STEWART, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Siltronic Corporation ("Siltronic"), filed the underlying action for declaratory judgment and breach of contract in order to allocate financial responsibility for environmental claims arising out of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site pursuant to various insurance policies. Between 1978 and 1986, defendant, Employers Insurance Company of Wausau ("Wausau"), issued seven annual Comprehensive General Liability Policies to Siltronic. Complaint, ¶ 9. Wausau defended Siltronic on various environmental claims until September 2009 when it concluded that the $6 million indemnity limits of the six policies covering the time period from 1980-86 were exhausted.[1] Cross-claimant, Granite State Insurance Company ("Granite State"), Siltronic's umbrella insurer, then began to pay Siltronic's defense costs.

Siltronic has now filed a Second Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (docket #141) on the limited issue of whether Wausau has a continuing duty to defend Siltronic under its first policy ("1978-79 Policy") and must reimburse Siltronic for unpaid defense costs. Granite State joins the motion, but disputes the amount of indemnity costs already paid by Wausau as represented by Siltronic (docket #147). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with FRCP 73 and 28 USC § 636(c). For the reasons stated, the motions are granted in part, denied in part and deferred in part.

BACKGROUND

In 1978, Siltronic bought real property located at 7200 N.W. Front Avenue ("Property") on the southwest shore of the Willamette River in a "heavy industrial" area. McCue Decl. (docket #145), ¶ 8.

Northwest Natural Gas Company ("NW Natural") owns real property adjacent to the Property. Id, ¶ 9. The Property and adjacent N.W. Natural property were once owned as a single parcel by N.W. Natural's predecessor, the Portland Gas and Coke Company ("GASCO"), on which it operated an oil gasification plant. Id; Burr Decl. (docket #146), Ex. 1, p. 2. GASCO disposed of the waste generated at the plant, Manufactured Gas Product ("MGP"), in tar ponds now located on the Property from 1940-41 until 1956 when the MGP operations ceased. Burr Decl., Ex. 1, p. 2. This disposal area became known as the "GASCO Sediment Site." Id, Ex. 4, p. 8. Before Siltronic purchased the Property, the MGP waste was covered up with fill materials, including material from the Willamette River. McCue Decl., ¶ 9. Siltronic first learned of these MGP disposal activities and the placement of cover-up fill materials several years after it purchased the Property. Id.

In February 1979, Siltronic began construction of an outfall pipe for treated effluent from the wastewater treatment pipe on the Property to the river. Id, ¶ 11(a)-(b). The construction required excavation and removal of fill material and a limited amount of submerged sediment along the northeast border of the Property. Id. On May 18, 1979, the excavation and pile driving activities disturbed oily sediment containing the buried MGP, and Siltronic set up an oil boom in the river to contain surfacing oil. Id, ¶ 11(c)-(d) & Exs. 5-9. Siltronic deposited the dredge material containing the oil on the riverbank away from the river. Id, ¶ 11(d) & Ex. 11. Although a dredged material disposal agreement between Siltronic's predecessor, Wacker Siltronic, and the Port of Portland designated Swan Island for disposal of dredging spoil materials, the dredge material remained on the Property. Id, ¶ 11(f)-(g) & Ex. 10.

In March 1980, Siltronic began manufacturing silicone wafers on the Property, generating trichloroethene ("TCE") waste. Gorman Decl. (docket #142), Ex. 1, p. 3.

On October 4, 2000, DEQ issued an Order ("2000 DEQ Order") requiring Siltronic and N.W. Natural to "perform a Remedial Investigation" of the Property "to determine the nature and extent of releases of hazardous substances to Willamette River sediments" and "to develop and implement source control measures to address such releases, if necessary." Burr Decl., Ex. 1, p. 5. The 2000 DEQ Order included the following findings of fact specifically identifying MGP as one of the "hazardous substances:"

The former GASCO plant produced oil gas and lampblack briquettes. Waste generated at the plant included tar, spent oxide, and wastewater containing dissolved and suspended hydrocarbons.... Subsurface petroleum or tar has been encountered before and during various construction activities on the [Siltronic] Property after [Siltronic's] acquisition of the property.

Id, p. 2.

The 2000 DEQ Order also identified N.W. Natural and Siltronic "[a]s current or past owner or operator of a facility, " each of whom is "strictly and jointly and severally liable under ORS 465.255, and therefore may be required by DEQ to conduct any removal or remedial action necessary to protect public health, safety, and welfare and the environment, pursuant to ORS 465.260(4)." Id, p. 4.

On December 8, 2000, the EPA issued a Notice of Potential Liability ("2000 EPA Notice") which deemed Siltronic a potentially responsible party ("PRP") for sediment contamination then alleged to exist in a designated section of the Willamette River. Id, Ex. 2, p. 2. It also stated that Siltronic might "be ordered to perform response actions deemed necessary by EPA [or] DEQ" and "to pay for damages to, destruction of, or loss of natural resources, including the costs of assessing such damages." Id, p. 1.

On June 23, 2003, Siltronic notified Wausau of the EPA and DEQ actions against it. Gorman Decl., Ex. 1. Wausau, though its administrator, Nationwide Indemnity Company, agreed to pay Siltronic's defense costs subject to a reservation of rights. Id, Ex. 2, p. 4; Burr Decl., Ex. 6, p. 1. Beginning on or about September 2003, Wausau began paying Siltronic's costs incurred in response to the EPA and DEQ demands. Complaint, ¶ 29; Moore Decl. (docket #150), ¶ 4.

On February 5, 2004, DEQ issued an Order ("2004 DEQ Order") requiring Siltronic to perform additional remedial investigations and conduct additional source control measures specifically targeting discovery of releases of TCE. Burr Decl., Ex. 3.

In early September 2009, EPA, N.W. Natural, Siltronic, and other parties entered into an Administrative Settlement Agreement and Order on Consent for Removal Action ("2009 Settlement Agreement"). Id, Ex. 4. This Agreement made Siltronic and N.W. Natural "liable for performance of response action and for response costs incurred and to be incurred" related to the GASCO Sediments Site. Id, p. 18. At the same time, Siltronic and N.W. Natural entered a Participation and Interim Cost Sharing Agreement ("Cost Sharing Agreement") to jointly conduct the remedial design activities in order to comply with the 2009 Settlement Agreement and allocate the associated costs. Moore Decl., Ex. B, p. 1.

Also in September 2009, Wausau declared exhaustion of the coverage limits under the six policies issued from 1980-86 and refused to pay any additional defense costs. Id, ¶ 9. Wausau contends that between 2003 and 2009, it not only paid the full $6 million in indemnity costs under those six policies, but also paid $7, 699, 837.00 in defense costs, including payments to attorneys, environmental consultants, and others. Id, ¶ 10.

POLICY PROVISIONS

In 1978, Wausau issued the 1978-79 Policy for the period of August 17, 1978, through January 1, 1980. Complaint, Ex. A, p. 6. The provision at issue, which also appears in the other six policies, provides that Wausau will pay:

all sums which the insured shall become legally obligated to pay as damages because of... property damage to which this insurance applies, caused by an occurrence, and the company shall have the right and duty to defend any suit against the insured seeking damages on account of such... property damage, even if any of the allegations of the suit are groundless, false or fraudulent, and may make such investigation and settlement of any claim or suit as it deems expedient, but the company shall not be obligated to pay any claim or judgment or to defend any suit after the applicable limit of the company's liability has been exhausted by payment of judgments or settlements.

Id, p. 7 (emphasis added).

The 1978-79 Policy defines "occurrence" as "an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to conditions, which results in bodily injury or property damage neither expected not intended from the standpoint of the insured." Id, p. 3. "Property damage" is defined as

(1) physical injury to or destruction of tangible property which occurs during the policy period, including the loss of use thereof at any time resulting therefrom, or (2) loss of use of tangible property which has not been physically injured or destroyed provided such loss of use is caused by an occurrence during the policy period.

Id.

The 1978-79 Policy provides $1 million in indemnity liability and requires Wausau to defend Siltronic until the $1 million indemnity limit is exhausted. Id, p. 11.

STANDARDS

FRCP 56(c) authorizes summary judgment if "no genuine issue" exists regarding any material fact and "the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The moving party must show an absence of an issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party does so, the nonmoving party must "go beyond the pleadings" and designate specific facts showing a "genuine issue for trial." Id at 324, citing FRCP 56(e). The court must "not weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the matter, but only determine[] whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Balint v. Carson City, Nev., 180 F.3d 1047, 1054 (9th Cir 1999) (citation omitted). A " scintilla of evidence, ' or evidence that is merely colorable' or not significantly probative, '" does not present a genuine issue of material fact. United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp., 865 F.2d 1539, 1542 (9th Cir 1989) (citation omitted). The substantive law governing a claim or defense determines whether a fact is material. Addisu v. Fred ...


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