The city of Hoboken has filed a lawsuit against the Boys & Girls Club of Hudson County alleging that the club, not the city, should be responsible for an oil spill that allegedly occurred next to the club in the days immediately following Hurricane Sandy.
The suit followed one by a pair of neighbors who live across the street from the local club at 123 Jefferson St. Last year, the neighbors sued the city of Hoboken for the same spill.
At the center of both suits is an underground oil tank that was buried just adjacent to the club. During Hurricane Sandy, floodwaters apparently penetrated the tank, forcing its contents into the street and allegedly into the foundation of a building across the street. Ron and Ivy Baron, who live there with their children, and their neighbor, Judith Smith, sued the city to cover mounting remediation and repair costs last year, since the city owns the property on which the Boys & Girls Club sits.
The city’s suit, while refraining from admitting any fault or responsibility in the matter, claims that the oil is the responsibility of the club. Despite the fact that the club only rents the property, the city is arguing that a clause in its 1994 lease mandates that the Club “be responsible for all taxes, assessments, levies, fees, and other governmental charges of whatever kind, foreseen and unforeseen, that arise with respect to the operation, possession or use of the premises.”
“We’re glad to see any progress that’s being made. But whatever happens, they still need to step up and take care of this.” -- Ivy Baron
Richard Rudin, the attorney representing the city in the suit, declined to answer questions last week relating to the matter, referring them to city spokesman Juan Melli. Melli declined to comment on the suit, citing ongoing litigation.
Last year, when the Barons filed their lawsuit alleging that the city was guilty of negligence for refusing to clean the oil for months, Mayor Dawn Zimmer responded, “We take any allegations seriously and will review this matter and try to resolve it amicably.”
Margarita Garcia, the Club’s director, also did not return a call for comment.
No mea culpa
The city’s suit, which names the Boys & Girls Club as a third-party defendant, makes clear that the city is not accepting any responsibility for the spill, despite at the same time saying the club should be forced to pay any damages that result from the Barons’ lawsuit.
Stuart Lieberman, the Barons’ attorney, said the language used in the city’s suit is relatively common in third-party civil complaints.
“These cases always put defendants in a tough position, because they can’t admit guilt in the matter but they also want to say that someone should have to pay for it,” he said.
Ivy Baron, reached on Wednesday, declined to comment on the city’s suit against the club, but she said she was encouraged to see the city finally taking action on the matter, even if it still does not take the blame.
“We’re glad to see any progress that’s being made,” said Baron. “But whatever happens, they still need to step up and take care of this.”
The Barons’ original suit, filed with Smith as a co-plaintiff last October, alleged that the city was delaying any efforts to clean up the spill. In an interview at the time, the Barons said an environmental cleanup expert estimated a remediation would cost around $800,000. They say they cannot move forward with structural repairs to other Sandy-related damage until the oil is remediated from beneath their house.
The Barons said that in the full year between Sandy and when they filed their suit, they had reached out to city officials with no results.
Ronald Baron said he believed that the city’s financial ability to drag out legal proceedings was allowing it to “string [them] along.”
On Tuesday, Lieberman echoed Barons’ statements.
“It’s a positive thing to see them finally moving on this, but what’s cut and dry here is that Hoboken was tasked with protecting its property from this storm and it didn’t do a good job,” he said. “The real question now is why they’re not stepping up and fixing this without putting my hardworking clients through what they’re putting them through.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org