Sometimes cases seem to be deciding issues that are so obvious it’s hard to figure out why they get any serious attention from the courts. One such case is ASARCO, LLC v. Celanese Chemical Company recently decided by the Ninth Circuit. That decision affirmed the lower court’s unsurprising ruling that, when a private party agrees to perform response actions or pay response costs in a private party settlement under CERCLA, any claims that the settling party can assert against third parties for contribution are subject to CERCLA’s three year statute of limitation.
The Ninth Circuit decision also confirms the equally unsurprising proposition that when the scope and amount of an earlier Superfund settlement is clarified in a subsequent bankruptcy proceeding, that clarification does not re-start the statute of limitations for contribution claims that had already run. While bankruptcy proceedings may be a means of discharging claims against a debtor, those proceedings are not a fountain of youth that can reinvigorate the debtor’s stale contribution claims.