SCOTUS – ATALNTIC RICHFIELD CO. v. CHRISTIAN (April 20, 2020)

“In a recent decision with far-reaching implications for owners of contaminated property, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, often referred to as the federal Superfund law) does not preclude claims under state laws for further cleanup of contaminated sites.

The takeaway point is that Superfund does not prevent state court lawsuits over the same real estate that is a designated public or private federal Superfund site. EPA is not the only game in town, and the game is played not just in the federal courts.

In a split decision (7-2) dated April 20, 2020, the Supreme Court decided that CERCLA does not preclude claims in state courts seeking additional cleanup of Superfund sites beyond what the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required, and/or damages or other relief under common-law torts like nuisance, trespass, and strict liability.

It is nuanced about Superfund not precluding state court jurisdiction over state law claims for more cleanup or larger damages than EPA has ordered or agreed, but there is a catch (extra cleanup of the same property within the Superfund site needs EPA prior approval) and the Court did not deal yet with whether Superfund preempts the Montana statute allowing such claims. Non-preclusion principles are not same as non-preemption precepts.” – (Quoted from an article written by Luke Leger (McGregor & Assocites).  For the full text of the article and a link the Supreme Court’s decision, click here.)

Leave a Comment