Shell Oil Co. v. United States, No. 17-1695 (Fed. Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
In 1942-1943, the Government contracted with the Oil Companies to purchase aviation gasoline, vital to the war effort, permitting a profit margin “between 6% and 7%.” The manufacture of avgas from crude oil uses a 98% purity sulfuric acid as a catalyst in alkylation, a process that dilutes the sulfuric acid such that it turns it into “spent alkylation acid,” which may be used to catalyze the alkylation process again following purification; produce non-avgas petroleum by-products; or be disposed of. If spent alkylation acid is used to produce other petroleum by-products, it becomes "acidic sludge," a secondary waste with a lesser percentage of acid content that can be used to manufacture fertilizer, burned, or disposed of. Unable to reprocess the increased amount of spent alkylation acid given the prioritization of production, the Companies dumped spent alkylation acid and acid sludge in California: 12 percent of the waste was spent alkylation acid, and 82.5% was acid sludge. In 1991, the Government and California sued the Companies under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, for costs of cleaning up the disposal site. The Companies countersued. After years of litigation, the Claims Court granted the Companies partial summary judgment to prevent discovery into insurance settlements; denied the Government’s motion for leave to assert counterclaims in fraud; held that the Government was liable for clean-up costs for nonbenzol waste--$99,509,847.32, including accrued interest. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the Claims Court failed to allocate between recoverable and nonrecoverable costs, wrongfully admitted stipulations to calculate damages, and wrongly refused to allow proof of double recovery by insurance settlements.