United States v. Bestfoods Page 16

United States v. Bestfoods general information

Media for United States v. Bestfoods

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1998 in United States v. Bestfoods

William H. Rehnquist:

It wouldn't do you any good.

Kenneth Steven Geller:

It wouldn't do you any good.

You'd be liable in exactly the same way under CERCLA.

I want to just continue this point that there's no evidence here that Congress mean to change the common law rule.

To begin with, this Court has said that Congress will not be taken to change common law rules, particularly ones as ingrained as limited liability for shareholders, without clear evidence that it intended to do so.

There is absolutely no clear evidence here.

In fact, in this statute there is another provision of this statute in which Congress did import a control test.

When you're dealing with abandoned facilities, Congress provided that people are liable not only if they owned or operated the facility, but also if they otherwise controlled the facility, so Congress clearly knew how to import the concept of control when it wanted to do so, but it didn't do so in this case.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

But Mr. Geller, the Government told us that that was meant to deal with facilities that had long ceased operating, that that was otherwise controlled.

You stopped any operations at the place but you have security guards or whatever you have.

That was the picture that I got.

Kenneth Steven Geller:

That's what they say.

There's certainly nothing in the legislative history or anywhere else to support that, but even if that were true, in their view operating includes the concept of control, and therefore there would still have been no reason for Congress to have put otherwise controlled in there.

Congress could have said, whoever was operating the facility immediately before it was abandoned, but Congress didn't do that.

They said, owned, operated, or controlled the facility immediately before it was abandoned, so this clearly shows that operator requires something different than mere control.

In addition, as you said, pointed out, Justice Ginsburg, there are many other statutes, many other statutes, including important statutes like ERISA and the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Securities Exchange Act, where Congress has imposed liability on people who control violators.

In other words, corporations are liable, as are their parents, in those situations.

Congress specifically did not do that in this particular statute.

And it would be inappropriate, we think, for the Court to read that in there when Congress has not chosen to put it in.

Antonin Scalia:

Mr. Geller, could I call you back to Mr. Williams again and ask you to address the findings of the district court concerning Williams?

They're set forth on 75a of the joint appendix, and the... the district court finds that he exerted control over a variety of Ott II environmental matters.

Kenneth Steven Geller:

Well--

William H. Rehnquist:

Where are you reading from?

75a in the middle of the page.

Kenneth Steven Geller:

--There is no... if I could say, Justice Scalia, there's no evidence to support that finding.

The district court doesn't cite any evidence.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, it goes on to give what I take are... its... what it believed constituted exerting control.

In a meeting with the Water Resources Commission, Williams participated in discussions which, as a result of his influence, did not include presentation by Ott II.

I guess influence wouldn't be the same as directing, would it?

Kenneth Steven Geller:

Right.