COMMISSIONER OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION v. UNDERPASS AUTO PARTS CO., et al., SC 19329
Judicial District of Hartford
Environment; Corporations; Whether Water Pollution Control Act Required Trial Court to Order Defendants to Remediate the Effects of Pollutants Discharged into State Waters; Whether the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine Applies to the Civil Enforcement Provision of the Aquifer Protection Act. The defendants are the owner and the operators of an automobile junkyard, which is located within a designated aquifer protection area and is approximately 1500 feet from two public drinking water supply wells. The Commissioner of Environmental Protection (commissioner) brought this environmental enforcement action, alleging that the defendants were responsible for the unlawful discharge of pollutants into ground and surface water. The trial court determined that the defendants violated the Water Pollution Control Act (WPCA) and the Aquifer Protection Act (APA) by illegally discharging pollutants into Connecticut’s waters. It also concluded that although defendant Dwain Thibodeau, who is an officer of two of the defendant corporations, was personally responsible for the violations of the WPCA, he was not individually liable for the violations of the APA. The court reasoned that the responsible corporate officer doctrine, which holds qualifying corporate officers personally liable for certain environmental violations, did not apply to the defendants’ violations of the APA because the only provision of the APA that specifically refers to the doctrine is the criminal enforcement provision, not the civil enforcement provision at issue here. In determining the appropriate remedies for the environmental violations, the court rejected the commissioner’s request for the implementation of a three phase program of investigation and remediation of the site, finding that the cost of such a program would be essentially prohibitive and that the program was unnecessary given that the contamination levels would not pose a significant environmental hazard at least until there is a transfer or redevelopment of the property. Instead, the court ordered the defendants to retain an environmental consultant to assist them in complying with the applicable environmental statutes and regulations. The commissioner appeals, arguing that once the court found that the defendants had illegally discharged pollutants into the state’s waters, the WPCA required it to order them to remediate the effects of the pollution. The commissioner also contends that the responsible corporate officer doctrine is fully applicable to civil enforcement proceedings under the APA.