Life After Atlantic Research: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals Holds that Response Costs Incurred Pursuant to a Consent Decree Are Recoverable Under Section 107 Of CERCLA

For those following developments in Superfund cost recovery and contribution case law after the Atlantic Research decision, it seemed worth noting that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently held, in W.R. Grace & Co. – Conn. v. Zotos International, Inc., that a party who incurs response costs pursuant to a state consent order has a right to bring an action to recover those response costs under § 107 of CERCLA.

Thus, the 2nd Circuit has answered the question left open by note 6 in Atlantic Research, and come down on the side of actions under § 107, rather than § 113. Although it is only dicta in Zotos, the 2nd Circuit also seemed to support the view the claims under § 113 will be narrowly limited to those that really are traditional contribution claims, i.e., actions in which the contribution plaintiff seeks to recover from one party payments that it made to another party – usually the United States or a State – to address the contribution plaintiff’s potential liability under CERCLA.

I’m tempted to say that this result is unsurprising and perhaps even obvious – except that nothing is unsurprising or obvious under CERCLA. As I have previously noted, only the Supreme Court seems to think that interpreting CERCLA is a straightforward exercise, so there is no assurance that the Zotos interpretation will sweep the land.

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