Seventh Circuit Affirms Denial of Injunctive Relief in RCRA Citizens Suit and Rejects “Continuing Violation” Argument


On March 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided an important Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Citizen Suit, LAJIM, LLC, et al. v. General Electric Co., affirming the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois’s ruling finding General Electric Company (GE) liable for the contamination on summary judgment but denying  LAJIM, LLC’s request for injunctive relief “because, despite the many opportunities the court provided, plaintiffs did not offer evidence stablishing a need for injunctive relieve beyond what the company had already done in the state action.”

For many years, GE operated a manufacturing facility in Morrison, IL. Chlorinated organic solvents were used to remove oil from the automotive and appliance parts manufactured at the plant, and chlorinated solvents were detected in municipal water supply wells serving the City of Morrison. The presence of this contamination triggered a state enforcement action by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, culminating cleanup efforts by GE, a cost recovery lawsuit filed by the Illinois Attorney General, a Consent Decree in 2010, and an approved Remedial Action Plan in March 2018 to address this pollution.

In 2013, a group of residents filed a RCRA Citizen Suit against GE, seeking a mandatory injunction ordering GE to conduct additional investigation and an order to remove the contamination. The District Court agreed that GE was liable for the contamination, but also denied the request for injunctive relief because the plaintiffs had not established a need for injunctive relief beyond what the company had already done in the state action.

On appeal, in a very thorough ruling, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court, and also denied any relief on the plaintiffs’ state tort law claims for nuisance, trespass and negligence, holding those claims were barred by the state’s statute of limitations. RCRA does not mandate that an injunction issue; the court enjoys some discretion under RCRA in deciding whether an injunction was necessary and appropriate.

Regarding the application of the Illinois statute of limitations and the plaintiffs’ argument that the presence and indeed migration of contamination in the groundwater amounted to a “continuing violation” of RCRA, the Seventh Circuit held that a continuing violation is not created by the “continued ill effects of an initial violations”.  There was basically a lack of “demonstrated continuing unlawful conduct”.