Law360 Q&A with Sheila Woolson

Sheila Woolson

Sheila Woolson, a Member of the Firm in the Labor and Employment and Litigation practices, in the Newark, N.J., office, was featured in a Q&A. (Read the full version — subscription required.)

Following is an excerpt:

Q: What is the most challenging case you have worked on and what made it challenging?

A: One of my most challenging cases involved a contaminated property in an industrial area that had been used for approximately 50 years to store and sell chemicals. The contamination was detected during an investigation required under New Jersey's Industrial Site Recovery Act, and the plaintiff sought to compel the defendants to assume responsibility for its remediation. The defendants were people or companies in the chain of title and manufacturers of some of the chemicals stored or sold there.

I represented a chemical manufacturer who was alleged to have manufactured some of the chemicals sold or stored on the property pursuant to a variety of different contracts or agreements. Given the property's long history and the passage of time, it was impossible to locate any witnesses with personal knowledge. Therefore, I relied on the documents available to determine what chemicals were at issue and what their constituents were. I was then able to demonstrate that my client's chemicals could not have caused the contamination at the site.

Additionally, we further used the documents to show that regardless, once the chemicals reached the property, the plaintiff and its predecessors were responsible for their packaging, storage and safety. Thus, the plaintiff bore any responsibility for a discharge.

Environmental litigation often involves the overlap of principles of both commercial and environmental law. This case underscored the importance of knowing, understanding and using the available documents and their details, right down to the shipping instructions, in defending a case.