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Chevron Pipe Line Co. v. PacifiCorp.

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

November 29, 2016

CHEVRON PIPE LINE COMPANY, Plaintiff, [1]
v.
PACIFICORP, d/b/a ROCKY MOUNTAIN POWER, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM DECISION RE: CONTRIBUTION CLAIMS FOR SETTLEMENT PAYMENTS

          TENA CAMPBELL U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         In 2010, crude oil from a pipeline owned by Chevron Pipe Line Company (CPL) leaked into Red Butte Creek in Salt Lake City after an electrical arc from Rocky Mountain Power's (RMP) electrical transition station created a hole in the pipeline. Individual residents sued CPL and RMP. CPL and RMP filed claims against each other. Now RMP asks the court to eliminate one category of damages that CPL seeks from RMP: settlement payments to the individual residents. For the reasons set forth below, RMP's motion for partial summary judgment concerning CPL's contribution claim for settlement payments is GRANTED.

         FACTS

         In June 2010, approximately 800 barrels of crude oil in CPL's pipeline leaked into Red Butte Creek. In December 2010, a second release of crude oil occurred. RMP was not associated with the December release.

         Approximately sixty homeowners living along the path of the spill filed claims against CPL for trespass, nuisance, negligence, and breach of contract, and sought payment of damages caused by the June spill and the December spill. CPL settled with the Homeowners in one lump sum. In the meantime, CPL filed a counterclaim against RMP alleging negligence, trespass, private nuisance, and violation of the federal Oil Pollution Act (OPA). Among other damages, CPL seeks reimbursement of some, if not all, of the settlement money on the theory that RMP tortious actions caused the Homeowners' damages.

         ANALYSIS

         RMP moves for partial summary judgment on CPL's claim for reimbursement, asserting that CPL's request is a claim for contribution, which is barred by the Utah Liability Reform Act (ULRA), Utah Code Ann. § 78B-5-820.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         A court must grant summary judgment when the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         CPL contends that RMP's request for partial summary judgment on certain damages arising under separate causes of action is procedurally improper. The court disagrees.

         The plain language of Rule 56 allows a court to grant partial summary judgment on a portion of a claim. “A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (emphasis added); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(g) (authorizing a court to grant partial relief on “an item of damages . . . that is not genuinely in dispute”); Hamblin v. British Airways PLC, 717 F.Supp.2d 303, 307 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (“[T]he word ‘claim' in Rule 56 is not limited to the theory of liability that a plaintiff asserts. A theory of liability is useless to a plaintiff without remedies flowing from that claim[.]”). Accordingly, RMP's motion for partial summary judgment on the narrow and discrete damage issue is proper under Rule 56.

         Utah Liability Reform Act

         Citing to the ULRA, RMP contends that CPL may not recover the settlement money paid to the Homeowners.

         The ULRA abolished contribution claims. “‘Contribution' is a method for tortfeasors forced to pay damages greater than their proportion of fault to recover from other joint tortfeasors in a separate action.” Nat'l Servs. Indus., Inc. v. B.W. Norton Mfg. Co., 937 P.2d 551, 554 (Utah Ct. App. 1997). Under the plain language of the ULRA, “[a] defendant is not entitled to contribution from any other person.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-5-820(2); see also Sanns v. Butterfield Ford, 94 P.3d 301, 307 (Utah Ct. App. 2004) (with the passage of the ULRA, “fault can no longer be apportioned to one defendant with the idea that it may later seek indemnification or contribution from another.”). Instead, the ULRA applies the comparative fault doctrine under which a joint tortfeasor pays only an ...


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