Hell, Belief and Brownfields

Former philosophy instructor David L. Guevara helps clients avoid environmental liability and worse 

Published in 2014 Indiana Super Lawyers — March 2014

David L. Guevara’s studies took him to hell and back.

After Guevara earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s in religious studies, he spent two years teaching philosophy at two Salt Lake City colleges, and three summers teaching world religion at the University of Utah while earning his Ph.D. In 2003, he completed his dissertation, “Hell, Belief and Justice” which asked, “If an individual has a justified belief in the nonexistence of God, what bearing does that have on the Christian doctrine of hell, which presupposes a belief in the existence of God?” His conclusion—that it would be immoral for that person to be “consigned to the set of the damned”—helped earn Guevara his doctorate in philosophy.

As an undergrad, “I did envision myself eventually in a teaching role,” he says. “I loved teaching when I did teach, but at some point, I really became interested in more of the practical application of philosophical principles as opposed to the theoretical analysis of philosophical principles.”

“Although my principal philosophical interest was epistemological,” he says, “I was always exceedingly interested in the nature of law, given the law’s obviously enormous influence over all human societies and human endeavors.” So after earning his doctorate, he applied to the University of Notre Dame Law School.

He was also compelled, he says, “by the fact that it would lead to a good job, or so I hoped.”

After graduation, Guevara joined Taft Stettinius & Hollister’s Indianapolis office, where he now practices environmental law and litigation.

“As a summer associate, it just happened that an environmental attorney at the firm needed some assistance on a few projects, so I started working with him and never stopped,” says Guevara of partner Bradley Sugarman. “The practice area also overlaps with other areas of the law, such as insurance law and litigation, so it has proven to be a very stimulating practice area.”

The transition from academia to the practice of law wasn’t without bumps. At first, “for any particular legal question, I wanted to drill down to the theoretical underpinnings of the issue,” says Guevara. “That was wildly off the mark.” He now strives to follow the model of successful attorneys who “truly understand the underlying legal principles, accurately discern the problem at issue and expeditiously make creative and practical solutions,” he says.

Guevara currently works with property owners facing environmental liability matters. For example, he counsels businesses, municipalities and real estate developers who are looking into purchasing and developing brownfields—property that may have been previously contaminated or polluted. The Environmental Protection Agency has funded the cleanup of such spaces through its Brownfields Program since 1995. But purchasers have been wary, even though the brownfields may be in great locations, due to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

“CERCLA’s liability scheme posed a barrier to the redevelopment of brownfields because parties could be held liable for the entire costs of investigating and remediating contaminated sites even if they purchased the property after the contamination occurred or were otherwise innocent parties,” he says.

Guevara helps clients qualify as bona fide prospective purchasers, meaning that they’ve conducted inquiries into a property’s condition prior to purchase, cooperated with authorities and appropriately handled any hazardous substances found on-site.

“If businesses knew they could protect themselves from liability as bona fide prospective purchasers, it would ideally result in the redevelopment of brownfields and less development of open and green spaces,” says Guevara. “And most importantly for our clients, by establishing themselves as bona fide prospective purchasers, businesses avoid the enormous costs associated with environmental liabilities.”

The Bona Fide Prospective Purchaser Defense is Guevara’s latest book, which he co-authored with Frank J. Deveau, co-chair of Taft’s environmental practice group. The two previously worked together to write Environmental Liability and Insurance Recovery. Guevara says he refers to both resources at least once a week.

Besides frequent reading, are there any similarities between his previous career and his current one? “What I liked the most [about teaching] was seeing the students really become enlightened by philosophical ideas,” he says. “That’s where I think there is a lot of overlap in taking the law, case law, statutes and regulations that all pertain to the same subject matter and trying to elucidate a principle that’s embedded in all of those.”

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