NJ Sues Ford For Pollution at Ringwood Mines

Three New Jersey governmental agencies/officials filed suit against the Ford Motor Company (Ford) in the Superior Court of New Jersey-Bergen County on Thursday claiming that Ford is liable under New Jersey environmental statues and common law for pollution at its 500-acre site known as Ringwood Mines that Ford used to dump waste from its Mahwah, New Jersey, assembly plant from 1967 to 1974.

The three plaintiffs are: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP); The Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; and The Administrator of the New Jersey Spill Compensation Fund (Administrator). As noted in the complaint, Ford Motor Company is sued “individually and as successor” to other Ford-related entities, all defined as “Ford.”

According to the complaint, the Ringwood Mines site is “encompassed by the historic homeland of the Ramapough Lenape Nation (the ‘Tribe’) Turtle Clan, a Native American tribe recognized by the State of New Jersey.” The plaintiffs state that many of the approximately 200 residents living within the Ringwood Mines are members of the Tribe. The plaintiffs note that the “cultural and spiritual traditions of the Ramampough Lenape Nation are inextricably interconnected with the land” and members of the Tribe rely on the land for food and medicine.

As a result of the purported pollution, harmful substances like arsenic and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found at the site affecting the environment including the “groundwater and surface water, sediments, wetlands, soils, air, and biota.”

The plaintiffs allege a long history of state and federal regulatory action and remediation efforts relating to the site. In particular, the plaintiffs note that the site was placed on the CERCLA “National Priorities List” in 1983, but removed in 1994 “based on Ford’s representation that Ringwood Mines had been adequately remediated.” Notwithstanding that, the plaintiffs further allege that in 2006 “Ringwood Mines became the first Superfund Site to be restored to the NPL due to Ford’s failure to disclose the full extent of the contamination at the Site.” The plaintiffs specifically deny that they are seeking relief covered by prior decrees in 1994 with the “United States of America” and in 2020 with not only the United States but the affected New Jersey municipality (Borough of Ringwood) and plaintiffs DEP and Administrator.

The plaintiffs seek relief under three New Jersey statues: the Spill Act; the Water Pollution Control Act; and the Solid Waste Management Act. In addition, the plaintiffs assert common law claims for Public Nuisance, Trespass, Negligence; Strict Liability and Punitive Damages. The plaintiffs seek exhaustive monetary and declaratory relief for the alleged environmental damage, including civil penalties.

Of particular interest, under the Water Pollution Control Act, the plaintiffs seek monetary relief not only for environmental harm but also for “any economic benefit they [defendants] have accrued, including any savings realized from avoided capital or non capital costs, the return they have earned  on the amount of avoided costs, any benefits that Defendants have enjoyed as a result of competitive market advantage or any other benefit they have received as a result of having violated the WPCA.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Matthew J. Platkin, Acting Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, and three law firms: The Lanier Law Firm, P.C.; Locks Law Firm, LLC; and Hausfeld LLP.