Federal government files counter-suit against UMN in UMore Park contamination case

The DOJ filed a lawsuit in response to the University’s complaint over contamination at a school-owned property in Rosemount.

Michael Achterling

The federal government has filed a counter-suit against the University of Minnesota over contamination at a school-owned property in Rosemount. 

The U.S. Department of Justice and DuPont filed arguments in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota on Nov. 17 against the University of Minnesota for liability and clean-up costs associated with the school’s Outreach, Research and Education (UMore) Park. 

The DOJ is counter-suing the University for $1.6 million, citing a breach of contract involving the World War II land sale. The $1.6 million would recoup site inspection costs performed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 2000s. 

The DOJ argues the University acknowledged the contamination in the 1948 land sale documents, which stated the University must assume “all liability and responsibility which may arise out of the said contaminated condition.”

The 1948 contract of sale, signed by the University, also stated the school would pay for any decontamination costs on the property.

“As expected, the United States and DuPont filed separate answers to the University’s lawsuit,” said University spokesperson Evan Lapiska.

The University filed its original $3 million lawsuit against the U.S. government and DuPont on Aug. 11, seeking reimbursement for clean-up costs from soil contamination of UMore Park. 

The property was previously operated by DuPont through an agreement with the federal government during WWII, and manufactured around 29 million pounds of smokeless gunpowder and associated chemicals on the property.

The University responded to the DOJ’s counter-suit on Friday, denying the government’s allegations.

“I would stress that we are at the very preliminary stage of the litigation,” Lapiska said. “These things take time and it is unlikely there will be a quick resolution of this matter.”

A remedial investigation of UMore Park released by the University in May identified multiple sites of concern at the property. These included sites with soil containing lead, mercury, arsenic and other chemicals above screening criteria.

Brad Karkkainen, a University law professor specializing in environmental, land-use and property law, said the federal government has been found liable for property costs in previous cases across the country. 

“There are a number of cases around the country where there have been government-owned facilities that have subsequently passed into other people’s hands, where about the current owner and federal government have been found to be liable,” he said.

Still, Karkkainen said the University may be able to recover damages without proving negligence. 

“It certainly is possible in cases like this that there could be a contractual agreement between the parties as to who assumes liability that otherwise would fall to the other party,” said Karkkainen. “Those kinds of contractual agreements are perfectly legal and can be enforceable.”

All three parties will meet for a pre-trial conference to discuss the future schedule of the litigation in March.

Lawyers representing the DOJ and DuPont declined comment for this story.