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Ford v. State of Maryland Attorney General

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 22, 2018

DELORES FORD, et al., Plaintiffs,



         Plaintiffs are residents of the Riggs Park community located in northeast Washington, D.C. who, proceeding pro se, have filed a complaint against the State of Maryland Attorney General, the Maryland Department of the Environment, and Chevron U.S.A., Inc., that includes multiple state and federal claims, including nuisance, trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraudulent concealment, discrimination, and conspiracy, among others. The action arises out of a gas leak that occurred almost 30 years ago at a Chevron gas station in Chillum, Maryland, just north of the Riggs Park neighborhood. Plaintiffs allege that as a result of the gas leak, toxic chemicals migrated through the soil to their properties, adversely affecting their property values and their health.

         All the defendants have filed motions to dismiss. Because plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, and they fall well outside the applicable statute of limitations, the Court will grant defendants' motions.


         According to the complaint, on October 2, 1989, “a Chevron employee reported to Chevron that a car . . . collided into a pump dispenser” at a service station located in Chillum, Maryland. Compl. [Dkt. # 1] ¶ 66, 69. After this collision, a contractor was brought in to repair the damage. Id. ¶ 69. He reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment that there was an underground release of petroleum products. Id. Later that month, Chevron hired Hunter Services, an engineering and environmental firm, to “conduct a preliminary environmental assessment” of the release. Id. ¶ 70. Hunter Services issued a report on February 23, 1990, noting that plaintiffs' properties, which were located just south of the station, were “sensitive receptors” of the gas release. Id.

         Plaintiffs allege that Chevron did not undertake to investigate how the Riggs Park population would be affected by the release of hazardous chemicals into the soil near their properties. Compl. ¶ 76. In March 1991, Chevron installed off-site monitoring wells east of the station in Maryland, but it did not install wells in the Riggs Park neighborhood. Id. ¶ 77. On a quarterly basis since 1993, samples have been collected from these wells and analyzed for chemicals such as “BTEX, ” “MTBE, ” and “Halogenated Aliphatic Hydrocarbons.” Id. ¶¶ 78- 79, 82, 84, 86, 89. These samples showed that additional petroleum releases occurred in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2000, although plaintiffs were notified only after the last release in 2000. Id. ¶¶ 78-90.

         Sometime in August 2000, the Chevron gas station shut down overnight and residents of Riggs Park notified the State of Maryland, who sent an inspector to the site. Compl. ¶ 91. The inspector found that gasoline had filled an entire monitoring well, and he stated that he would notify Chevron and the District of Columbia that a release had occurred. Id. Chevron then notified residents of Riggs Park that “Chevron would be having a community meeting” regarding the releases. Id. ¶ 92.

         Sometime between 2008 and 2009, “[p]laintiffs, in an effort to establish damages caused by Defendants . . . paid to have properties appraised to establish [whether] the values on their properties were negatively affected by the actions of the Defendants.” Compl. ¶ 24. The appraisals showed that their property values had decreased, and as a result, plaintiffs appealed their property taxes to a D.C. authority and were awarded a reduction in taxes. Id. In addition, in 2008, a “District of Columbia sponsored sampling event identified 45 homes of the 106 sampled needed VMS [vapor mitigation system] installations.” Id. ¶ 121.

         Plaintiffs allege that Chevron intentionally contaminated “[p]laintiffs' personal and real property” thereby lowering their property values and exposing plaintiffs to toxic chemicals. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 10. Plaintiffs further allege that the State of Maryland and its Department of the Environment aided and abetted Chevron's torts and conspired with Chevron to fail to notify the residents of Riggs Park of the releases, causing plaintiffs additional “financial, mental and medical hardship and losses in years to come.” Id. ¶ 18.

         On April 4, 2017, 35 individuals filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against the State of Maryland, the Maryland Department of the Environment, and Chevron U.S.A., Inc. See Ex. B, Chevron's Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 7-3] (“Chevron's Mot.”) at 13. They asserted the following claims against all defendants: (1) vicarious liability through civil conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 241, (2) continuing trespass, (3) nuisance, (4) duty to disclose, (5) intentional nuisance (strict liability), (6) neglect to prevent interference with civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1986, (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (8) disparate impact discrimination under Title VII, (9) failure to warn/fraudulent concealment, (10) medical monitoring, and (11) violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 40-54.

         On July 25, 2017, the Superior Court dismissed plaintiffs' claims against the Maryland defendants, finding that it did not have personal jurisdiction, and the claims were time-barred. On November 7, 2017, the Superior Court granted Chevron's motion to dismiss, again finding that the claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Riggs Park Advocates for Envtl. Justice v. Maryland, 2017 CA 2351 B (D.C. Super. Ct. Nov. 7, 2017).

         Just a few weeks later, on November 22, 2017, plaintiffs filed an almost identical complaint in this Court, asserting the same eleven claims against the same defendants. All defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Chevron's Mot.; Maryland's Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 14, 15] (“Maryland's Mot.”).


         “To survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In Iqbal, the Supreme Court reiterated the two principles underlying its decision in Twombly: “First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” 556 U.S. at 678. And “[s]econd, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 679.

         A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A pleading must offer more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” id., quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. ...

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