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Rudy Perrino Secures Defense Verdict in California

News | January 6, 2022


Rudy Perrino, a partner in Kutak Rock’s Los Angeles office, successfully obtained a defense verdict in the Tulare County Superior Court of the State of California on behalf of firm client Choice Drilling, Inc. after an eight-day bench trial.

SOMA Environmental Engineering, Inc. (“SOMA”) hired firm client Choice Drilling, Inc. (“Choice”) in 2018 to decommission and abandon 27 groundwater monitoring wells using pressure grouting. Choice had been unable to pressure grout all of the wells, but alerted SOMA’s man in the field of that fact.  Nevertheless, SOMA signed and submitted reports to the State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”) attesting that all of the wells had been decommissioned using pressure grouting.

Three months later, SOMA received a letter from SWRCB delineating deficiencies in SOMA’s work on various State projects for which they had been hired over a ten year period, and set forth their intent to pursue upwards of $18.5 million in penalties, a result of SOMA’s “alleged negligent and fraudulent activities” documented by the Fraud Prevention Unit for the SWRCB’s Underground Storage Tank Fund. In a meeting, SWRCB presented eight claims against SOMA, to include “misrepresenting well decommissioning,” but none of the claims offered evidence that involved Choice or the Dinuba project. SOMA settled the matter with the state for $200,000 and a promise not to do further business with the State, but then sued Choice, alleging that Choice’s failure to pressure grouting was the sole reason for the fees paid and penalties imposed to settle with the State.

At trial, Mr. Perrino introduced proof that SOMA’s settlement with the State was not about Choice’s work on the Dinuba project, but about years of fraud, waste and abuse documented by SWRCB, and therefore SOMA was responsible for its own damages. Further, the judge determined that Choice materially performed its obligation under its agreement with SOMA and, thus, failed to meet its burden of proof.

The critical moment for the judge in this case came when the owner of SOMA testified on cross-examination that he had entered into a settlement with the State with the intention of suing Choice for damages after the fact because it was cheaper than litigating against the State.

Rudy Perrino is a litigator and recognized trial attorney with significant experience defending and prosecuting claims in a broad range of areas: environmental, mass tort, toxic tort, product liability, commercial, oil and gas, and food law. He has managed and litigated large-scale, high- exposure cases in courts across the country and around the world.