Ohio v. Kovacs

PETITIONER: Ohio
RESPONDENT: Kovacs
LOCATION: New Mexico State Police Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 83-1020
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 469 US 274 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 10, 1984
DECIDED: Jan 09, 1985

ADVOCATES:
David A. Caldwell - On behalf of the Respondents
E. Dennis Muchnicki - on behalf of Petitioner
Ms. Kathryn A. Oberly - On behalf of the United States Government as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Ohio v. Kovacs

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1984 in Ohio v. Kovacs

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Ohio v. Kovacs.

You may proceed whenever you're ready, counsel.

E. Dennis Muchnicki:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court, this matter is before the Court pursuant to a petition filed by the people of the State of Ohio, seeking a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The people of Ohio seek reversal of the determination that a bankruptcy court may discharge the duty of a debtor to comply with the state court injunction to abate a public health hazard by cleaning up a hazardous waste... a toxic waste facility.

In this argument, Ohio wishes to make three basic points.

First, as a matter of public policy, the decision below treats the goals of the bankruptcy system as absolute values which transcend virtually every other matter of public policy, including the protection of public health and safety.

Secondly, as to the factual context of this case, Ohio is not before this Court seeking compensation for past harm or expenses, but rather we are attempting to prevent future harm by obtaining compliance with an injunction to abate an ongoing nuisance and health hazard.

Byron R. White:

It's been abated now, hasn't it?

E. Dennis Muchnicki:

No, it has not, Your Honor.

The drums... the drums that were... the materials that were in the drums or that remain in the drums have been removed, but the most serious problem that still exists is the pollution of the ground water which is used by the City of Hamilton for its water supply.

And right now, as a result of the past practices on that site, the soils of the site are so thoroughly saturated with toxic wastes that they are now an ongoing source of pollution, that every day more pollution is leaching into the ground water and you have a continuing violation.

Byron R. White:

Is the receiver still in possession?

E. Dennis Muchnicki:

The receiver is still in possession.

Byron R. White:

And Kovacs is out of possession.

E. Dennis Muchnicki:

The receiver has equitable possession.

Kovacs still has partial title to the... legal title to the site.

Byron R. White:

But the receiver is in charge of the site, I take it.

E. Dennis Muchnicki:

Yes.

Although right now, actually, US FPA is exercising authority jointly with him.

But the receiver, under the state court order, has equitable possession of the site.

Byron R. White:

But Kovacs couldn't literally carry out the terms of the injunction.

He couldn't enter the premises and take charge of it and carry out acts that he thought were justified.

E. Dennis Muchnicki:

You mean now?

Byron R. White:

Yes.

E. Dennis Muchnicki:

No, he could not.

What he--

Byron R. White:

Because the State dispossessed him of the property by putting a receiver in charge.

E. Dennis Muchnicki:

--They created... they put the receiver in equitable possession of the property.

Byron R. White:

Well, I know, but he's the one that sooner or later took some steps, but then the United States took some steps and removed the toxic wastes from the surface.

Is that right?