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N.Y. Court Grants Summary Judgment in Puerto Rico MTBE Case

New York, NY
Dec 30, 2013

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. Shell Oil Co. et al., 07 Civ. 10470

CASE RESULTS DEPEND UPON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. CASE RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE.
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Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether, known as "MTBE," is a chemical additive commonly used in the 1980s and 1990s as an oxygenate for gasoline.  In recent years, states and municipalities have been suing participants in the gasoline industry alleging groundwater contamination as a result of gasoline containing MTBE leaking from underground storage tanks.

In a case typifying the sorts of claims brought by government entities against commercial producers of products containing MTBE, in 2007 the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico sued multiple gasoline-producer defendants alleging damages due to groundwater contamination.  In 2012, it added a number of additional defendants, including Idemitsu Apollo Corporation, a subsidiary of Japan based Idemitsu Kosan Co., Ltd.

On December 30, 2013, Judge Scheindlin from the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment motions brought by two defendants in the Puerto Rico MTBE toxic torts litigation.  The Court held that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's claims, including environmental claims seeking abatement, were time barred under Puerto Rico's one year statute of limitations on torts—despite plaintiff’s argument that sovereign immunity allowed it to pursue claims beyond the statute of limitations.

The case is significant because the decision supports defendants’ argument that sovereign immunity does not serve to preserve otherwise-time-barred claims a sovereign wishes to assert.

Idemitsu Apollo Corporation was represented by David N. Lutz and Dustin Fossey of Bowman and Brooke LLP.

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