Torts II, Pages 852–856

Philadelphia Electric Company v. Hercules, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, 1985

Facts:

Defendant's predecessor sold plaintiff land with resinous materials seeping into the Delaware River that plaintiff had to spend $400,000 to eliminate. The sale was subject to caveat emptor, and plaintiff had opportunity to inspect the land before the transfer. Plaintiff sued for the damages and for an injunction requiring defendant to abate any further pollution.

Procedural History:

District court granted both of defendant's requests.

Issue:

Does nuisance allow plaintiff to recover for conditions on land it purchased?

Reasoning:

  • The land was sold subject to the rule of caveat emptor. No case permits recovery on private nuisance theory for preexisting conditions on purchased land. Nuisance law only applies to conflicts with neighboring, contemporaneous land uses. Neighbors cannot protect themselves through inspection and negotiation like a purchaser can.

  • Public nuisance protects public interests, not private interests. The right of the general public that was impaired was the right to pure water. Plaintiff does not allege that it used the water itself or that it was harmed by the pollution, thus public nuisance does not apply either.

Holding:

No, neither private nor public nuisance theory allows plaintiff to recover. Reversed.

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