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Protections Under Federal and Ohio Law for Bona Fide Prospective Purchasers of Contaminated Property

Client Alert

Most industrial/commercial property developers are generally aware of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), often also referred to as “Superfund”. CERCLA, a United States federal law administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was created, in part, because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized that environmental cleanup could help promote reuse or redevelopment of contaminated, potentially contaminated, and formerly contaminated properties, helping revitalize communities that may have been adversely affected by the presence of the contaminated properties. Commercial property developers should be aware that CERCLA provides for some important liability limitations for landowners that own contaminated property impacted by materials hazardous to the environment. It can also assist with landowners concerned about the potential liabilities stemming from the presence of contamination to which they have not contributed. In particular, CERCLA provides important liability limitations for landowners that qualify as (1) bona fide prospective purchasers (BFPPS), (2) contiguous property owners, or (3) innocent landowners. 

A relatively new Ohio law works in tandem with CERCLA to make purchasing contaminated properties in Ohio a bit less risky for the BFPPs. By way of a quick recap of CERCLA before discussing Ohio law, the 2002 amendments to CERCLA created landowner liability protections, including protection for BFPPs as mentioned above. The BFPP provision protects a party from Superfund owner/operator liability for a party that acquired property after January 11, 2002 by way of providing for available affirmative defenses to liability for said developers involved in certain remedial activities. These protections are immensely important as CERCLA imposes strict, joint, and several liabilities on property owners/operators for releases of hazardous substances into the environment, meaning that remediation costs can be overwhelming for parties that did not necessarily cause the contamination. BFPPs are able to purchase property with knowledge of contamination so long as the BFPP meets certain statutory criteria. The statutory criteria include conducting all appropriate inquiries into the previous ownership and uses of the property, disposal of hazardous substances at the property that occurred prior to the acquisition, providing all of the legally required notices regarding any releases, cooperating with those conducting response actions at the property, complying with any institutional land use or engineering controls, and taking the appropriate steps and care with regard to any hazardous substances at the property. 

The new Ohio law that went into effect on September 15, 2020 through the enactment of House Bill 168 has been codified in Ohio Revised Code 3746.122.  It is a new BFPP defense from liability that in large part mirrors the defense under CERCLA. It is available as a defense for any BFPP where the acquiring landowner qualifies under the same BFPP factors referenced above with a couple additional qualifications – the cause of action against the person must be due to the person’s status as an owner or operator of the facility, and the person must not impede the state’s actions in responding to a release or threatened release of hazardous substances. The main advantage of Ohio’s law is that prior to the Ohio law went into effect, there was not a similar defense to state-level liability for BFPPs. This often left BFPPs dealing with state-level liability with no choice other than to work through the Ohio Voluntary Action Program in order to obtain a Covenant Not to Sue from the State of Ohio, requiring a certified professional to issue a no Further Action Letter and for Ohio to issue a Covenant Not to Sue based on the No Further Action Letter.  This was frequently a very expensive and time-consuming process that was often avoided. The new Ohio law, however, requires no affirmative government approval to take effect. 

Ohio’s law pertaining to BFPP defense does differ, however, from CERCLA as it does not provide blanket immunity from liability in any action brought by the federal government or a private citizen. Instead, Ohio’s law only provides immunity in an action brought by the state to recover investigative or remedial costs, where the basis for liability is the person’s status as an owner or operator. This is obviously a narrower scope than CERCLA. Nonetheless, it is surely a welcome law for any individual or entity that has purchased commercial property in Ohio that may contain hazardous material. 

For additional questions, please contact Litigation Attorney Jack Hinneberg at jwhinneberg@bmdllc.com.


A Win for the Hospitals: An Update on the Latest 340B Lawsuit

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected massive payment cuts to hospitals under the 340B drug discount program. Now, the Department of Health and Human Services no longer has the discretion to change 340B reimbursement rates without gathering data on what hospitals actually pay for outpatient drugs. This “straightforward” ruling was based on the text and structure of the statute, per the Supreme Court. Simply put, because HHS did not conduct a survey of hospitals’ acquisition costs, HHS acted unlawfully by reducing the reimbursement rates for 340B hospitals.

New Office of Environmental Justice Announced

The profound impacts of climate change, combined with environmental and industrial pollutions, have led the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish the Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ). The creation of OEJ aligns with President Biden’s Executive Order Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The OEJ will be led by Sharunda Buchanan, a former official for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and will target disadvantaged communities around the country in hopes of improving the health of those populations and preventing future harm.

New York, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Delaware Become the latest States to Adopt Full Practice Authority for Nurse Practitioners

While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly created many obstacles and hardships, it also created many opportunities to try doing things differently. This can be seen in the instant rise of remote work opportunities, telehealth visits, and virtual meetings. Many States took the challenges of the pandemic and turned them into an opportunity to adjust the regulations governing licensed professionals, including for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

Explosive Growth in Pot of Gold Opportunity for Bank (and Other) Cannabis Lenders Driving Erosion of the Barriers

Our original article on bank lending to the cannabis industry anticipated that the convergence of interest between banks and the cannabis industry would draw more and larger banks to the industry. Banks were awash in liquidity with limited deployment options, while bankable cannabis businesses had rapidly growing needs for more and lower cost credit. Since then, the pot of gold opportunity for banks to lend into the cannabis industry has grown exponentially due to a combination of market constraints on equity causing a dramatic shift to debt and the ever-increasing capital needs of one of the country’s fastest growing industries. At the same time, hurdles to entry of new banks are being systematically cleared as the yellow brick road to the cannabis industry’s access to the financial markets is being paved, brick by brick, by the progressively increasing number and size of banks that are now entering the market.

2021 EEOC Charge Statistics: Retaliation & Impact of Remote Work

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its detailed information on workplace discrimination charges it received in 2021. Unsurprisingly, for the second year in a row, the total number of charges decreased as COVID-19 either shut down workplaces or disconnected employees from each other. In 2021, the agency received a total of approximately 61,000 workplace discrimination charges - the fewest in 25 years by a wide margin. For reference, the agency received over 67,000 charges in 2020, and averaged almost 90,000 charges per year over the previous 10 years.