The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD WHYTE, District Judge
ORDER GRANTING NCH'S MOTION TO DISMISS NATIONAL'S FOURTH CAUSE OF
ACTION AND DENYING NCH'S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS
National Semiconductor (Maine), Inc. and Schlumberger
Technology Corporation (collectively "National") have sued NCH
Corporation ("NCH") for alleged groundwater contamination. NCH
moves to dismiss National's fourth cause of action for violation
of the Hazardous Substance Account Act ("the HSAA"), Cal. Health
& Safety Code §§ 25300 et seq. NCH also moves for sanctions
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 ("Rule 11"). National
opposes the motions. The court has read the moving and responding
papers and considered counsels' arguments. For the reasons set
forth below, the court grants NCH's motion to dismiss and denies
NCH's motion for sanctions. I. BACKGROUND
This case concerns alleged groundwater contamination on two
parcels of land in Sunnyvale: the Arques Parcel and the Kifer
Parcel. FAC ¶ 1. According to National, NCH has operated a
chemical blending plant at the Kifer Parcel since 1967. Id. at
¶ 9. National contends that NCH's activities caused industrial
solvents to migrate from the Kifer Parcel to the Arques Parcel.
Id. at ¶¶ 10-11. National asserts that NCH has not taken
adequate remedial measures to stop this migration. Id. at ¶ 11.
National alleges that the California Regional Water Quality
Control Board ("the Regional Board") issued a series of Orders to
NCH, including (1) a Site Cleanup Requirement Order on September
17, 1997, (2) a Notice of Violation on September 28, 1998, and
(3) a revised Site Cleanup Requirements Order on October 18,
2000. Id. at ¶¶ 12-15. National claims that its predecessor,
Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation ("Fairchild"), owned the
Arques Parcel until 1972, when it sold the land to
Hewlett-Packard Corporation ("HP"). Id. at ¶ 16. National
contends that both Fairchild and HP have taken environmental
remedial actions at the Arques Parcel. Id. According to
National, despite the fact that the Regional Board's Orders name
NCH as a responsible party, NCH has contributed nothing to this
effort. Id. at ¶ 19. National's fourth cause of action seeks
treble damages under Cal. Health & Safety Code § 25359.4.5
Dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6)
is proper only when a complaint exhibits either a "lack of a
cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts
alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica
Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). The court must
accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true. Id. "A
complaint should not be dismissed `unless it appears beyond doubt
that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his
claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Gilligan v. Jamco
Dev.Corp., 108 F.3d 246, 248 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).
B. Statutory Interpretation
The California Supreme Court has explained that a court
construing a statute must start with its plain meaning and only
examine extrinsic sources if necessary to resolve an ambiguity: [W]e first examine the words of the respective
statutes: `If there is no ambiguity in the language
of the statute, then the Legislature is presumed to
have meant what it said, and the plain meaning of the
language governs. Where the statute is clear, courts
will not interpret away clear language infavor of an
ambiguity that does not exist.' If, however, the
terms of a statute provide no definitive answer,
thencourts mayresort to extrinsic sources, including
the ostensible objects to be achieved and the
People v. Coronado, 12 Cal. 4th 145, 151 (1995) (quoting
Lennane v. Franchise Tax Bd., 9 Cal. 4th 263, 268 (1994)). At
the same time, however, a court may disregard "[t]he literal
meaning of the words of a statute . . . to avoid absurd
results. . . ." County of Sacramento v. Hickman, 66 Cal. 2d 841,
849, n. 6 (1967).
1. National's Fourth Cause of Action
The HSAA provides for treble damages when a polluter ignores a
A responsible party who has entered into an agreement
with the department and is in compliance withthe
terms of that agreement, or who is in compliance
withan order issued by the department, may seek, in
addition to contribution, treble damages from any
contribution defendant who has failed or refused to
comply with any order or agreement, was named inthe
order or agreement, and is subject to contribution. . . .
A party seeking treble damages pursuant to this
section shall show that the party, the department, or
another entity provided notice, by means of
personalservice or certified mail, of the order or
agreement to the contribution defendant from whom the
party seeks treble damages.
Cal. Health & Safety Code § 2539.4.5(a) (emphasis added). Section
2539.4.5(a) expressly defines "the department" to mean "the
Department of Toxic Substances Control," not the Regional Board.
See Cal. Heath & Safety Code § 25312. National does not allege
that it has (1) "entered into an agreement" with or (2) "is in
compliance with an order issued by" the Department of Toxic
Substances Control. Thus, under the plain meaning of section
2539.4.5(a), National cannot state a cause of action for treble
National offers several reasons why, in its view, "the
department" means either the Department of Toxic Substances
Control or the Regional Board. National cites Lungren v.
Deukmejian, 45 Cal. 3d 727 (1988) and People v. Sup. Ct.,
14 Cal. 4th 294 (1996) for the proposition that courts cannot adopt
a statute's literal language without examining its purpose.
However, unlike this case, both Lungren and People involved
ambiguous statutes. Lungren resolved whether Article V, section
5(b) of the California Constitution, which provides that a
nominee for state office who "is neither confirmed nor refused
confirmation by both the Senate and the Assembly within 90 days
of the submission of the nomination . . . shall take office"
meant that confirmation occurs if one house votes on the
nomination and one fails to vote within 90 days. Lungren,
45 Cal. 3d at 734. As the court acknowledged, the provision was
equally susceptible to multiple meanings. Id. at 735. People involved
the issue of whether the term "present source of drinking water"
included facet water. People, 14 Cal. 4th at 301-02. Like
Lungren, People interpreted a phrase that gave rise to "two
reasonable inferences" about its meaning. Id. at 302. Both
cases thus looked to extrinsic evidence in order to shed light on
a patent ambiguity. Here, on the other hand, "the department" is
a defined term and does not include the Regional Board. Because
section 2539.4.5(a) is not ambiguous, the court need not consider
National's arguments that extrinsic evidence elucidates that "the
department" means either the Department or the Regional Board.
Nevertheless, the court briefly discusses each below.
a. Overlapping Jurisdiction
The California Department of Environmental Protection oversees
both the Department and the Regional Boards. See Cal. Gov't
Code § 12812. The Department primarily enforces the HSAA. See
Cal. Health & Safety Code § 58000 et seq. The Regional Boards
largely administers the ...