Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that only settlements that explicitly resolve liability under CERCLA trigger the contribution provisions of section 113 of CERCLA. I have previously commented on the Court’s tendency to treat CERCLA as much more straightforward and unambiguous than practitioners have understood it to be. The Court’s approach to section 113 in yesterday’s decision followed this now well-worn path. In a short, sweet, and unanimous decision,… More
Category Archives: statute of limitations
It’s Still Good to Be King; SCOTUS Continues to Interpret CERCLA In Ways Unrecognizable to Practitioners
I have previously discussed how nice it must be for Supreme Court justices to reach judicial decisions from on high, without getting their collective hands dirty worrying about the practical consequences of their decisions. The same has always been true with respect to SCOTUS decisions concerning CERCLA, which has seemed far simpler to SCOTUS than to us poor lawyers who have to actually make it work.
Exhibit A for this argument is the latest SCOTUS Superfund decision. … More
Two recent cases illustrate the potential scope of, and the potential limitations on, injunctive relief in RCRA citizen suits. First up, Schmucker v. Johnson Controls.
Contamination was detected at the Johnson Controls manufacturing facility in Goshen, Indiana. In response, Johnson Controls performed substantial remediation under the auspices of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Voluntary Remediation Program. Nonetheless, significant contamination remains at the site,… More
In the early days of Superfund, defense lawyers used to joke that all government lawyers had the same oral argument script. It was three sentences long.
Good afternoon, your honor. My name is _____ and I represent the government in this case. We win.
Lawyers in Massachusetts rightly feel that that pretty much remains the state of affairs in Massachusetts, at least for private cost recovery or property damage claims. … More
The Statute of Limitations Narrows a Bit More on PSD Violations: Sierra Club Suffers a Self-Inflicted Wound
The law is full of fine distinctions. Today’s example? A divided 10th Circuit panel affirmed dismissal of the Sierra Club’s citizen suit claims against Oklahoma Gas and Electric concerning alleged PSD violations at OG&E’s Muskogee plant because the Sierra Club did not sue within five years of the commencement of construction – even though Sierra Club did sue within five years of the completion of construction.… More
Far too frequently, we are reminded just how hard judges must work to save CERCLA from itself. The decision last week in California River Watch v. Fluor Corporation is the most recent compelling example.
Fluor Corporation has been performing response actions at a site, including operating a soil vapor extraction system, since no later than 1997. Fluor’s remedial action plan was not approved until 2011 and a modified RAP was approved in 2014.… More
Last year, after a string of defeats for EPA in its NSR enforcement initiative, I suggested that the initiative was in trouble, but that EPA was probably not yet ready to concede defeat. After the latest blow, earlier this month, EPA has to be reconsidering. I assume that EPA won’t give up completely until it has lost everywhere or the Supreme Court has weighed in, but the NSR initiative is definitely on life support at this point.… More
Parties which settle environmental liability in a judicially approved settlement have three years from the date of that settlement in which to seek contribution even if the settlement is not a CERCLA settlement. That is the holding in a recent federal case in Montana, ASARCO LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Company. There, ASARCO had entered into a 1998 consent decree under RCRA and the Clean Water Act to remediate a contaminated site that for over a century had been used as a lead smelting facility. … More
In contrast to the early days of Superfund when no argument for extending CERCLA liability was too far-fetched, the Second Circuit recently rejected one of the all-time “Hail Mary” passes for CERCLA contribution. The case, ASARCO LLP v. Goodwin, involved a 2009 settlement by ASARCO of Superfund liability involving several contaminated mines it owned in Everett, Washington. After settling, ASARCO asserted contribution claims against residuary trusts established in 1937 by the will of John D.… More
Even Superfund lawyers are likely to find the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday in CTS Corporation v. Waldburger to be of limited interest. Unable to reach an agreement about a federal “toxic tort” cause of action, Congress in the 1986 amendments to CERCLA settled on a limited provision that federalized the equitable tolling of statutes of limitation applicable to state toxic tort claims so that toxic tort claims would not accrue until a plaintiff either knew or should have known of his claim. … More
Last Friday, EPA lost another NSR enforcement case. Not only that, but this was a case EPA had previously won. As we noted last August, Chief Judge Philip Simon of the Northern District of Indiana, had previously ruled that the United States could pursue injunctive relief claims against United States Steel with respect to allegations by EPA that US Steel had made major modifications to its plant in Gary,… More
Yes, Virginia, NSR Really is a Preconstruction Permitting Program: Another NSR Enforcement Case Fails on Statute of Limitations Grounds
The trend of cases holding that the NSR provisions of the Clean Air Act constitute a one-time preconstruction review requirement got stronger earlier this month, as the decision in Sierra Club v. Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company dismissed claims by the Sierra Club related to facility modifications that occurred more than five years prior to entry of a tolling agreement between the parties. The decision may not break any new ground,… More
As I have previously noted, the government’s record in NSR enforcement cases has been going downhill, particularly with important defeats before the 3rd and 7th Circuits’ Courts of Appeals. The latest governmental defeat came late last week, in Pennsylvania v. Allegheny Energy, when Chief Judge Conti granted judgment for the defendants on claims alleging both NSR and NSPS violations.… More
Although courts are sometimes reluctant to enforce them, there really are hard stops in CERCLA, particularly the three year statute of limitations for recovery of costs incurred in a removal action. In Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection v. Beazer East, Inc., the Third Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of a CERCLA cost recovery action by the State of Pennsylvania on the basis of the three year limitations period for removal actions. … More
Ever since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United, an effort has been made to humanize corporations, culminating in Mitt Romney’s infamous pronouncement that “Corporations are people my friend.” Now it turns out that corporations may not be entirely like people. In a recent decision, the Delaware Court of Chancery in In the Matter of Krafft-Murphy Company, Inc.… More