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Showing 94 posts in Contamination.

This Blog Post was authored by Isaiah B. Kramer, a summer associate.

On June 7, 2021, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed in part a decision of the Appellate Division and held that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (“the Department”) may bring an enforcement action against a county under the State’s Solid Wastes Disposal Sites and and Facilities Act (“the SWA”). Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs of La Plata v. Colo. Dep’t of Pub. Health, 2021 CO 43. In doing so, the Court found that the county was neither protected by sovereign immunity nor otherwise exempt from the reach of the SWA. Read More »

Less than a month after hearing oral arguments, the United States Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in Guam v. United States, Docket No. 20-382 (May 24, 2021), the eagerly anticipated opinion on whether consent decrees and administrative orders that do not expressly resolve liability for claims under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) nevertheless give rise to a claim for contribution under Section 113(f)(3) of CERCLA. The issue is a crucial one and has been the subject of numerous court opinions because of the short, three-year limitations period for contribution actions. The opinion, which the Court intended to provide clarity in the area, holds that only settlements that release “CERCLA-specific liability” trigger the right to contribution. Read More »

On March 31, 2021, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a district court decision interpreting the term “claim” in an indemnification agreement to require some threat of suit or assertion of liability under Minnesota law. Finding that mere notice of potential liability failed to meet that standard, the Court held that under the terms of the agreement, the buyer, Wisconsin Central, Ltd. (“Wisconsin Central”), must indemnify a seller, Soo Line Railroad Company (“Soo Line”), for liability arising under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). Wisconsin Central LTD v. Soo Line Railroad Co., No. 19-3129 (7th Cir. Mar. 31, 2021). Read More »

The First Circuit recently affirmed the District of Rhode Island’s approval of a superfund consent decree entered into between the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), the State of Rhode Island and several Potentially Responsible Parties despite opposition by third party PRPs that the settlement was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). Emhart Indus., Inc. v. CNA Holdings LLC, No. 19-1563, slip op. (1st Cir. 2021 Feb. 17, 2021). What makes this case unique, and bolstered the arguments of the objectors, is that the settlement incorporated work pursuant to a ROD that the District Court had already determined has not been selected in accordance with law. Nevertheless, both the District Court and the First Circuit held that the finding did not preclude the settlement, leaving the objectors exposed to contribution claims for a remedy potentially inconsistent with the National Contingency Plan (“NCP”). In affirming the lower court, the First Circuit highlighted the “integral part” that early settlement plays in CERCLA’s statutory scheme, thus giving deference to the settling parties. Read More »

In a split decision that could have ramifications for future lawsuits involving the present pandemic, a majority panel in the Ninth Circuit held that the United States was not liable under CERCLA as an “operator” at the Lava Cap Mine Superfund Site when it ordered the mine to shut down during World War II. United States v. Sterling Centrecorp Inc., No. 18-15585 (9th Cir. Oct. 5, 2020). The decision will likely spell some relief for local, state, and federal officials that have issued similar shutdown orders across the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read More »

On September 14, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that speculative, potential future response costs are not recoverable in a contribution action under CERCLA, even if the party seeking contribution has already made an expenditure for such costs pursuant to a settlement. The response costs at issue in ASARCO LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Co, No. 18-35934, D.C. No. 6:12-cv-00053-DLC (9th Cir. Sept. 14, 2020) were part of a cash-out bankruptcy settlement that resolved plaintiff ASARCO LLC’s liability for several contaminated sites. Only a portion of the settlement funds paid by ASARCO had been spent on remediating the site in question, with the rest held in trust to address future potential response costs. Although the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s allocation of 25 percent of the cleanup responsibility to the defendant, Atlantic Richfield, it vacated and remanded the district court’s decision with respect to the future costs. Read More »

Last week the Third Circuit held that Combustion Equipment Associates, Inc. n/k/a Carter Day Industries, Inc. (“Carter Day”) was not protected from a contribution claim brought by Compaction Systems Corporation of Connecticut, Inc. and Compaction Systems Corporation (collectively, “Compaction”) for amounts Compaction was obligated to pay to the United States despite Carter Day having resolving its liability to the State of New Jersey for the same site. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. American Thermoplastics Corporation, et al., Nos. 18-2865 & 19-2243 (3d. Cir. Sept. 8, 2020). At issue was whether the settlement agreement between Carter Day and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) addressed the same “matter” as the contribution claim brought by Compaction for response costs at the Combe Fill South Landfill Superfund Site (the “Combe Fill Site” or “Site”). Read More »

The Federal Tort Claims Act permits claims for monetary damages against the United States for injury or loss of property caused by the wrongful acts of federal employees. See 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). However, this waiver of sovereign immunity is limited by the discretionary function exception, which preserves immunity for claims “based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the Government.” 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a). Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit analyzed the discretionary function exception in the context of environmental contamination, finding that the exception does not apply to what can best be described as ordinary negligence in the performance of a site remediation. Nanouk v. United States, No. 13-35116 (Sept. 4, 2020). Read More »

Earlier this week the Eleventh Circuit issued a published decision in Pinares v. United Technology Corporation, No. 18-15104, slip op. (11th Cir. Aug. 31, 2020), affirming the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Pratt & Whitney, dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims as time-barred. In doing so, the Court held that the personal injury tolling provision in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) does not apply to public liability actions brought pursuant to the Price-Anderson Act (“PAA”) or to claims styled under state law based on injuries from radiation exposure. Thus, the lawsuit pursued by Joselyn and Steve Santiago alleging that Pratt & Whitney was liable for their deceased daughter Cynthia Santiago’s cancer was time barred. Read More »

On August 10, 2020, the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court’s grant of defendants’ motion for summary judgement, permitting plaintiffs’ case to move forward in a Superfund action for contribution. See Arconic v. APC Investment, No. 19-55181 (9th Cir. Aug. 10, 2020), a case we had reported on here. At issue was whether a settlement between plaintiffs and certain de minimis parties for future potential response costs was an adequate triggering event for the statute of limitations period (against different defendants) in an action for contribution under CERCLA Section 113(f). The Ninth Circuit held that it was not, explaining that in the context of a “judicially approved settlement,” the proper triggering event was a settlement which imposed actual cleanup costs in excess of a party’s estimated liability at the site. Read More »