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California River Watch v. Fluor Corp.

United States District Court, Northern District of California

December 22, 2014

CALIFORNIA RIVER WATCH, Plaintiff,
v.
FLUOR CORPORATION, Defendant. THE SHILOH GROUP, Intervenor/Plaintiff,
v.
FLUOR CORPORATION, Defendant. FLUOR CORPORATION, Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
THE SHILOH GROUP, WEST COAST METALS, INC., M&M SERVICES, INC. Third-Party Defendants.

ORDER DENYING WEST COAST METALS'S MOTION TO DISMISS THIRD-PARTY COMPLAINT RE: DKT. NO., 181

WILLIAM H. ORRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

INTRODUCTION

Third-party defendant West Coast Metals argues in its motion to dismiss that Fluor Corporation's third-party complaint is barred by res judicata because West Coast Metals previously executed a settlement agreement related to the same environmental contamination alleged here. Per Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), I find this motion suitable for determination without a hearing and VACATE the hearing set for January 7, 2015. Res judicata does not apply. Fluor was not a party to the settlement agreement and was not in privity with a party to that agreement. West Coast Metals's motion to dismiss the third-party complaint is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

This lawsuit involves three separate complaints relating to 53 acres of real property located in Windsor, California (the "Site"): the underlying lawsuit, a complaint in intervention, and a third-party complaint.

Plaintiff California River Watch filed a citizen suit against Fluor under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. § 6901 et seq., alleging that Fluor created an endangerment to health or to the environment at the Site. Dkt. No. 146 ¶¶ 1-3 (fifth amended complaint). Id. ¶¶ 1-3. California River Watch contends that Fluor owned and engaged in operations on the Site from 1955 until 1972. Id. ¶ 14 (fifth amended complaint).

Intervenor plaintiff The Shiloh Group is the current owner of 28 of the 53 acres on the Site. The Shiloh Group filed a complaint in intervention against Fluor, seeking contribution for cleanup costs under CERCLA and asserting related claims. Dkt. No. 147 (complaint in intervention).

Fluor then filed a third-party complaint against M&M Services, Inc. and West Coast Metals, Inc., who Fluor alleges are the current industrial operators of the site. Dkt. No. 157 (third-party complaint). Fluor alleges that M&M and West Coast Metals operate recycling facilities on portions of the Site which are a source of the contamination conditions alleged by River Watch. Id. ¶ 1.

Third-party defendant West Coast Metals now moves to dismiss Fluor's third-party complaint as barred by res judicata because West Coast Metals previously settled a matter related to the same alleged contamination at issue here. Dkt. No. 181 (motion to dismiss third-party complaint).

LEGAL STANDARD

"Res judicata, also known as claim preclusion, bars litigation in a subsequent action of any claims that were raised or could have been raised in the prior action." Owens v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan, Inc., 244 F.3d 708, 713 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). "The doctrine is applicable whenever there is (1) an identity of claims, (2) a final judgment on the merits, and (3) identity or privity between parties." Id. (citation omitted).

"Privity—for the purposes of applying the doctrine of res judicata—is a legal conclusion designating a person so identified in interest with a party to former litigation that he represents precisely the same right in respect to the subject matter involved." F.T.C. v. Garvey, 383 F.3d 891, 897 (9th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). "Privity is a flexible concept dependent on the particular relationship between the parties in each individual set of cases." Id. (citation omitted).

DISCUSSION

West Coast Metals argues that Fluor's third-party complaint against West Coast Metals is barred by res judicata because West Coast previously settled a suit brought by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance relating to the same allegations at issue in Fluor's third-party complaint. West Coast Metals's argument fails because there is ...


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