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Thomas & Betts Corp. v. New Albertson's Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 29, 2016

THOMAS & BETTS CORPORATION, Plaintiff/Defendant-in-Counterclaim,
v.
NEW ALBERTSON'S, INC., Defendant/Plaintiff-in-Counterclaim. NEW ALBERTSON'S, INC., Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
ALLIS-CHALMERS ENERGY, INC., f/k/a Allis-Chalmers Corporation, f/k/a Allis Chalmers Manufacturing Company, SIEMENS INDUSTRY INC., and ALFA LAVAL INC., f/k/a Alfa Laval, Inc., f/k/a/ The DeLaval Separator Company, Third-Party Defendants. THOMAS & BETTS CORPORATION, Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
SIEMENS INDUSTRY, INC., JEWEL FOOD STORES, INC., STAR MARKETS COMPANY INC., AND HYDE PARK MANAGER, INC., As Administrative Trustee for W/S Cardinal Hyde Park-MA Trust., ALLIS-CHALMERS ENERGY, INC., f/k/a Allis-Chalmers Corporation, f/k/a Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, THE VILLAGE AT CLEARY SQUARE, LLC, HYDE PARK AUTO REPLACEMENT PARTS CO., INC., DAMPNEY COMPANY, INC., ALBERT L. ANDREWS, ALBERT L. ANDREWS III, RICHARD F. ANDREWS, ROBERT G. MATTHEWS, BOSTON RENAISSANCE CHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOL, and ALFA LAVAL INC., Third-Party Defendants. ALFA LAVAL INC., Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
ACME INDUSTRIAL EQUIPMENT COMPANY, YUKON/HYDE PARK AVENUE LIMITED PARTNERSHIP and JEANETTE YUKON As General Partner of YUKON/HYDE PARK AVENUE LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, Third-Party Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          WILLIAM G. YOUNG DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This memorandum and order arises out of post-trial motions for attorney's fees and other costs following a protracted legal struggle over the cleanup of Middle and Lower Mother Brook in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston. See Thomas & Betts Corp. v. New Albertson's, Inc., No. 10-11947-WGY, 2016 WL 1735811, at *1-2 (D. Mass. May 2, 2016) (recounting historical background of the present litigation as detailed in Court's previous post-trial order). In the months since the verdict, six parties have sought attorney's fees, costs or both: Dampney Company, Inc. (“Dampney”); Allis-Chalmers Energy, Inc. (“Allis-Chalmers”); New Albertson's, Inc. (“New Albertsons”); Thomas & Betts Corp. (“Thomas & Betts”), Boston Renaissance Charter School (“Charter School”); and Alfa Laval, Inc. (“Alfa Laval”).

         The instant parties represent but a fraction of the original number of parties before the Court, yet the present post-trial litigation alone encompasses almost another three dozen motions, memoranda, exhibits, and affidavits. Despite the inherent complexity of so many filings, the pending motions implicate only two cost-shifting rationales: (1) a claim for nontaxable attorney's and expert's fees by New Albertsons under Massachusetts General Laws chapter 21E, section 15; and (2) claims for taxable costs by each party pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1).

         The Court assumes familiarity with the relevant factual background and procedural posture of this case. See Thomas & Betts, 2016 WL 1735811, at *1-2. Accordingly, it summarizes only briefly the jury verdict and submissions filed in connection with the instant motions for fees and costs.

         The jury returned its verdict in this case following a six-week trial. It found, first, that Thomas & Betts's response costs were “necessary and appropriate” and apportioned the resultant payment responsibility three ways (85 percent to Thomas & Betts, 14 percent to Alfa Laval, and 1 percent to Charter School); second, that New Albertsons's response costs were also “necessary and appropriate” and ought be split between Thomas & Betts (75 percent) and New Albertsons (25 percent); and third, that New Albertsons did not “cause or contribute” to the pollution of Mother Brook, despite its equitable responsibility to bear some of the response costs. See Jury Verdict (“Verdict”) 1-4, ECF No. 801.

         New Albertsons now seeks to recover fees and costs. Corrected Mem. Law Supp. New Albertson's, Inc.'s Mot. Award Att'ys' and Experts' Fees Pursuant M.G.L. c. 21E, § 15 (“N.A. Mem.”), ECF No. 883; Reply Mem. Supp. New Albertson's, Inc.'s Mot. Award Att'ys' and Experts' Fees Pursuant M.G.L. c. 21E, § 15 (“N.A. Reply”), ECF No. 914. Thomas & Betts opposes this motion. Pl.'s Opp'n New Albertson's Mot. Award Att'ys' and Expert Fees (“T&B Opp'n N.A.”), ECF No. 902; Thomas & Betts Surreply Mem. Resp. New Albertson's Mot. Award Att'ys' and Expert Fees (“T&B Surreply”), ECF No. 917.

         Additionally, each of the other parties has filed claims and cross-claims seeking to recover costs. See Dampney Company, Inc.'s Mem. Supp. Bill Costs (“Dampney's Mem.”), ECF No. 853; Allis-Chalmers Energy Inc.'s Mem. Supp. Bill Costs (“Allis-Chalmers's Mem.”), ECF No. 855; Thomas & Betts Corporation's Mem. Supp. Mot. Bill Costs (“T&B Mem.”), ECF No. 898; Boston Renaissance Charter School's Opp'n Thomas & Betts Corp.'s Mot. Bill Costs and Supp. Mot. Bill Costs (“Charter Mem.”), ECF No. 909; Alfa Laval, Inc.'s Opp'n Thomas & Betts Corporation's Mot. Bill Costs and Cross-Mot. Bill Costs (“Alfa Mem.”), ECF No. 906. These motions are also contested. See Thomas & Betts Corporation's Opp'n Dampney Company's Bill Costs (“T&B Opp'n Dampney”), ECF No. 900; Thomas & Betts Corporation's Opp'n Allis-Chalmers Energy, Inc.'s Bill Costs (“T&B Opp'n Allis- Chalmers”), ECF No. 899; Charter Mem.; Alfa Mem.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Before the Court is New Albertsons's motion for fees and costs, as well as motions by Dampney, Allis-Chalmers, Thomas & Betts, Alfa Laval, and Charter School for costs. Although Federal Rule of Civil procedure 54(d) provides the basic legal framework for claims for both fees and costs, [1] distinct subsections of that rule (and, correspondingly, distinct legal standards) govern each. Accordingly, the Court analyzes them separately, first evaluating New Albertsons's motion for fees and then turning to the various parties' motions for costs.

         A. Fees

         New Albertsons argues that it is entitled to attorney's fees under state law, and proffers a calculation of an award. Thomas & Betts refutes the applicability of the state law fee-shifting provision, and further takes issue with New Albertsons's fee calculations. The Court addresses these issues in turn.

         1. Whether Fees are Recoverable

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(2) provides the procedure for requesting attorney's fees. It applies, however, only where a party contends that fee-shifting is appropriate under some independent substantive law, as a “prevailing litigant is ordinarily not entitled to collect a reasonable attorney's fee from the loser.” Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Society, 421 U.S. 240, 247 (1975).

         Here, New Albertsons claims it is entitled to attorney's fees under Massachusetts General Laws chapter 21E, section 15 (“Section 15”). N.A. Mem. 2, 4. Thomas & Betts disputes this. T&B Opp'n N.A. 6.

         Section 15 provides:

In any suit by Massachusetts residents to enforce the requirements of this chapter, or to abate a hazard related to oil or hazardous materials in the environment, the court may award costs, including reasonable attorney and expert witness fees, to any party other than the commonwealth who advances the purposes of this chapter.

Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 21E, § 15. As the language of Section 15 makes clear, recovery is available only to Massachusetts residents. Further, a party may only recover fees under Section 15 if it was found “innocent” of contributing to hazardous waste release. See Bank v. Thermo Elemental Inc., 451 Mass. 638, 668 (2008). Finally, even if a party is eligible to recover fees under Section 15, the amount of any award is within the discretion of the Court. Sanitoy, Inc. v. Ilco Unican Corp., 413 Mass. 627, 633 (1992). The Court addresses these issues in turn, ultimately concluding that New Albertsons is entitled to fees under Section 15.

         a. Residency

         Thomas & Betts challenges New Albertsons's Massachusetts residency, noting that New Albertsons is incorporated in Ohio and has its principal place of business in Idaho. T&B Opp'n N.A. 11-12. New Albertsons does not dispute that it is not itself a corporate resident of Massachusetts, but contends it ought be considered a resident under Section 15 while “standing in the shoes” of its subsidiary, Shaw's Supermarkets (“Shaws”), a Massachusetts corporation and tenant of 1377 Hyde Park Ave. N.A. Mem. 6-7.

         As an initial matter, that New Albertsons is a corporate entity, rather than an individual citizen, does not disqualify it from recovering of fees under Section 15. See Sanitoy, Inc. v. Ilco Unican Corp., 413 Mass. 627, 632 (1992). Faced with a dearth of instructive case law on the issue of whether New Albertsons, as the parent company of Shaws, ought be considered a Massachusetts resident, the Court adopts a functional approach to Section 15 and concludes that New Albertsons satisfies the residency requirement.

         Over the course of this litigation, New Albertsons accepted responsibility for the 1377 Hyde Park property cleanup obligations. Indeed, it admitted that it was an “operator” of the relevant Shaws facility.[2] Ignoring an out-of-state parent corporation's willingness to “stand[] in the shoes” of a subsidiary would seem to subvert Chapter 21E's goal of incentivizing hazardous waste clean-up. See Acme Laundry Co. v. Sec'y of Envtl. Affairs, 410 Mass. 760, 764 (1991) (citing Sheehy v. Lipton Indus., Inc.,24 Mass.App.Ct. 188, 197 (1987)) (“Chapter 21E ‘is drafted in a comprehensive fashion to compel the prompt and efficient cleanup of hazardous material.'”). Moreover, the Supreme Judicial Court has interpreted the scope of Section 15 broadly, in the interest of achieving expeditious toxic material clean-up. See Sanitoy, 413 Mass. at 632 (refusing to limit Section 15 applicability to a putative class made of multiple residents because it ...


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