Monday, August 14, 2006

8th Circuit Joins 2nd Circuit On CERCLA Suits

Aug 11: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, Atlantic Research v. United States, Case No. 05-3152. Atlantic Research Corporation of Camden, Arkansas, sought partial reimbursement from the United States for costs incurred in an environmental cleanup. Atlantic’s claim is based on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986. The issue for consideration is whether CERCLA forbids a party such as Atlantic, which has voluntarily cleaned up a site for which it was only partly responsible, to recover part of its cleanup costs from another liable party. The Appeals Court held that CERCLA § 107 permits such a cause of action.

Atlantic sought to recover a portion of these costs from the United States by invoking CERCLA §§ 107(a) and 113(f).3 Atlantic and the government began to negotiate in an effort to resolve these financial matters. The negotiations ended with the United States Supreme Court decision in Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Aviall Services, Inc., 543 U.S. 157, 125 S. Ct. 577, 160 L.
Ed. 2d 548 (2004) (Aviall). In Aviall, the court found a party could only attempt to obtain § 113(f) contribution 'during or following' a §§ 106 or 107(a) CERCLA civil action. Id. at 161, 125 S. Ct. at 580. As no action had been commenced against Atlantic under either §§ 106 or 107(a), the Aviall decision barred its § 113(f) contribution claim. With its § 113(f) claim Aviall-foreclosed, Atlantic amended its complaint. The amended complaint relied solely on § 107(a) and federal common law. In lieu of answer, the government moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing this Court’s pre-Aviall decision in Dico, Inc. v. Amoco Oil Co., 340 F.3d 525 (8th Cir. 2003) (Dico) foreclosed Atlantic’s § 107 claim. The district court agreed and Atlantic appealed the decision.

The Appeals Court provides considerable discussion of pre-Aviall claims and the effect of the Aviall Supreme Court decision. The Second Circuit is the only Court which has considered this question since the Aviall decision. That Court also revisited its pre-Aviall precedent and concluded that § 107 allowed one liable party to recover voluntarily incurred response costs from another. Consolidated Edison Co. v. UGI Utilities, Inc., 423 F.3d 90, 100 (2d Cir. 2005).

The Eighth Circuit said, "We agree with our sister Circuit, and hold that it no longer makes sense to view § 113 as a liable party’s exclusive remedy. This distinction may have made sense for parties such as Dico, which was allowed to seek contribution under § 113. But here, Atlantic is foreclosed from using § 113. This path is barred because Atlantic – like Aviall – commenced suit before, rather than 'during or following,' a CERCLA enforcement action. Atlantic has opted to rely upon § 107 to try to recover its cleanup costs exceeding its own equitable share. We conclude it may do so."

Editor's Update Note: On January 19, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of U.S. v. Atlantic Research Corp. (Docket: 06-0562). The case was appealed from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision of August 11, 2006 [See WIMS 8/14/06]. The primary questions presented in the case is: "Whether a party that is potentially responsible for the cost of cleaning up property contaminated by hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), but that does not satisfy the requirements for bringing an action for contribution under Section 113(f) of CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. 9613(f), may bring an action against another potentially responsible party under Section 107(a), 42 U.S.C. 9607(a)?"

Access the complete Eighth Circuit opinion (
click here). Access a Medill News Service summary of the action (click here). Access the U.S. Supreme Court Docket for the case (click here). [*Remed]