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Clean Water Action v. Searles Auto Recycling, Corp.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 17, 2018

Clean Water Action, Plaintiff,
Searles Auto Recycling, Corp., Defendant.


          Nathaniel M. Gorton, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Clean Water Action, a nationwide, non-profit, public benefit corporation that works to protect the nation's water resources (“CWA” or “plaintiff”), claims that defendant Searles Auto Recycling Corp. (“Searles” or “defendant”) has violated the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq., by failing to comply with the requirements of its Stormwater Permit. In its counterclaim, defendant asserts that plaintiff's filing of this suit is an abuse of process intended for ulterior motives extraneous to the proceeding. Plaintiff's motion to dismiss the counterclaim is now pending before the Court. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion to dismiss will be allowed.

         I. Background

         Searles operates an automobile salvage yard on Easthampton Road in Northampton, Massachusetts (“the Facility”). When rainwater or snowmelt accumulate on the Facility, the subsequent stormwater runoff is contaminated with pollutants because the Facility conducts several of its industrial operations outside. The polluted stormwater flows from the Facility into catch basins located on Easthampton Road, and eventually into Mill River through connected pathways of wetlands and waterways.

         In May, 2016, CWA sent Searles a “60-day Notice of Violations and Intent to File Suit Regarding NonCompliance with Federal Clean Water Act Industrial Stormwater Discharge Requirements” (“the notice”). After receiving the notice, Searles retained professionals, who investigated the Facility and prepared a Notice of Intent for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Industrial Activity. In July, 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued Searles a Multi-Sector General Permit ID: MAR 053878 (“Stormwater Permit” or “Permit”) pursuant to the Clean Water Act's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Among other things, the Permit requires in §§ 2.1 and 2.5 that Searles “minimize effluent discharges” by implementing adequate “control measures”.

         In August, 2016, Searles notified CWA that the EPA had issued to it a Stormwater Permit to demonstrate its compliance with the Clean Water Act. In October, 2016, CWA filed a complaint alleging that Searles was in violation of that very Act. Shortly thereafter, Searles filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) contending that Searles was in compliance of the Clean Water Act when CWA filed suit and still is. The motion was denied by this Court on August 7, 2017.

         Searles filed its answer and counterclaim on August 28, 2017. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss defendant's counterclaim for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). That motion is the subject of this memorandum.

         II. Legal Analysis

         A. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint (or counterclaim) must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In considering the merits of a motion to dismiss, the Court may look only to the facts alleged in the pleadings, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint and matters of which judicial notice can be taken. Nollet v. Justices of Trial Court of Mass., 83 F.Supp.2d 204, 208 (D. Mass. 2000), aff'd, 248 F.3d 1127 (1st Cir. 2000). Furthermore, the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint (or counterclaim) as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Langadinos v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 199 F.3d 68, 69 (1st Cir. 2000). Although a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that doctrine is not applicable to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).

         B. Analysis

         CWA moves to dismiss Searles' counterclaim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on the grounds that (1) the Court has already rejected Searles' contention that CWA knowingly pursued a groundless claim and (2) Searles failed to allege sufficient factual matter to state the ulterior motive element in its claim for abuse of process.

         1. Court's Ruling on CWA's Allegations

         CWA first contends that the Court previously concluded that CWA's allegations were made in good faith, plausible and supported by sufficient factual matter when it denied Searles' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. CWA ...

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