Environmental Clean-Up Indemnification Agreement Between Seller and Buyer of Property Triggered by Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC’s) “Potentially Responsible Party (PRP)” Letter to Buyer
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Stein, reversing the Appellate Division, determined the environmental clean-up indemnification agreement between the seller (Pyne) and buyer (Remet) of property was triggered by the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC’s) letter to Remet. Although the letter referred to Remet as a “potentially” responsible party (PRP), the letter required that Remet enter into a consent agreement (re: the clean-up) with the DEC or, if no consent agreement is executed within 30 days, pay for the clean-up done by the DEC:
The plain language of the governing contractual indemnity provision, together with the language of the PRP letter and the surrounding facts and circumstances, demonstrate that Remet was entitled to indemnification because it was “required,” within the meaning of the sales agreement, to act in response to the PRP letter. The PRP letter stated that it pertained to an “Urgent Legal Matter,” indicated that a prompt reply was “necessary,” and set forth the consequences that would flow from Remet’s refusal to act. Regardless of whether Remet was designated a potentially responsible party or a responsible party, the letter demanded either a consent order or payment, and any language indicating that Remet’s response was voluntary must be read in terms of those demands. In other words, the PRP letter — by its terms — effectively marked the beginning of a “legal” process against Remet pursuant to the ECL, in which DEC expressly sought recovery from Remet for any amounts expended in remediating the [the site].
Additionally, the circumstances surrounding the execution of the indemnification clause include the parties’ awareness that, because the [site] was listed as an inactive hazardous waste site, the purchaser of the property at issue here risked incurring substantial expenses, and that Pyne accordingly deposited a large sum in escrow to cover at least a portion of those potential expenses. Remet Corp. v Estate of Pyne, 2015 NY Slip Op 07575, CtApp 10-20-15