The Western District Court of Appeals affirmed a defense verdict for a Baker Sterchi client gas station owner on claims by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources under the Hazardous Substance Emergency Act and the Underground Storage Tank Release Abatement and Investigation regulations. Following a combined two-week jury and bench trial in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, a complete defense verdict and judgment were returned for Baker Sterchi's client, denying the DNR’s requests for injunctive relief and civil penalties related to an alleged petroleum spill.
DNR’s regulatory action and civil case followed complaints of odors in a neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri. In affirming the judgment for Baker Sterchi's client, the Court of Appeals found that DNR had failed to prove that the gas station was responsible for a release of a hazardous substance and had failed to identify what specific conduct, if any, remained to be performed by the gas station to abate and remediate the alleged spill. Significantly for the industry, the Court of Appeals also found that the DNR lacked the authority to seek civil penalties based upon its “declaration” of a hazardous substance emergency, but was required to issue an order as a precondition for seeking civil penalties.
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