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United States of America and People of the State of California, Ex v. Hvi Cat Canyon

January 16, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, EX REL. CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME AND CALIFORNIA REGIONAL WATER QUALITY CONTROL BOARD, CENTRAL COAST REGION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HVI CAT CANYON, INC., F/K/A GREKA OIL & GAS, INC.., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dean D. Pregerson United States District Judge

AMENDED ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

Presently before the court is Defendant HVI Cat Canyon, Inc. ("Greka")'s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Claims for Relief. Having considered the submissions of the parties and heard oral argument, the court denies the motion and adopts the following order.

I. Background

Defendant owns or operates several oil and gas production facilities near Santa Barbara, California. (Complaint ¶¶ 57-59.)

Between 2005 and 2009, oil was spilled or released from Defendant's facilities into nearby waters on twenty-one separate occasions.*fn1

(Compl. ¶¶ 65, 68, 91, 94, 97, 104, 133-136.) Plaintiffs the United States of America ("United States") and the People of the State of California ("State") jointly filed the instant action for civil penalties, injunctive relief, recovery costs, and other damages. (Compl. ¶ 1.)

The United States brings five claims under the Clean Water Act ("CWA") 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq. and Oil Pollution Act of 1990, 33 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq. The State brings five claims under the California Water Code § 13000 et seq. and the California Fish and Game Code §5650 et seq., asserting that this court has supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims.*fn2 Defendant now moves to dismiss the United States' first claim, brought under Section 311 of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b).*fn3 Defendant also moves to dismiss all five state law claims.

II. Legal Standard

A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss when it contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must "accept as true all allegations of material fact and must construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000). Although a complaint need not include "detailed factual allegations," it must offer "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Conclusory allegations or allegations that are no more than a statement of a legal conclusion "are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679. In other words, a pleading that merely offers "labels and conclusions," a "formulaic recitation of the elements," or "naked assertions" will not be sufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Id. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

"When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement of relief." Id. at 679. Plaintiffs must allege "plausible grounds to infer" that their claims rise "above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief" is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

III. Discussion

A. Clean Water Act Section 311

Section 311 of the Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of oil into "the navigable waters of the United States, adjoining shorelines, or into or upon the waters of the contiguous zone . . . in such quantities as may be harmful . . . ." 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b)(3) (emphasis added). Other portions of the CWA use slightly different language. Section 301(a), for example, prohibits the "addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source." 33 U.S.C. § 1362(12) (emphasis added).

The CWA defines the term "navigable waters" as "the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas." 13 U.S.C. ยง 1362(7). Defendant argues that this definition does not apply to Section 311 because the terms "navigable waters" and "navigable waters of the United States" have separate and differing meanings. Defendant posits that, the CWA definition of "navigable waters" notwithstanding, "navigable waters of the United States" means "traditionally navigable waters." Defendant argues that while the bodies of water into which Defendant spilled oil may be "navigable ...


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