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Atl. Richfield Co. v. Christian

Supreme Court of the United States

December 3, 2019, Argued; April 20, 2020, Decided

No. 17-1498.


Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.

For nearly a century, the Anaconda Copper Smelter in Butte, Montana contaminated an area of over 300 square miles with arsenic and lead. Over the past 35 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has worked with the current owner of the [**8]  smelter, Atlantic Richfield Company, to implement a cleanup plan under the Comprehensive Environmental Response,  [*529]  Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. EPA projects that the cleanup will continue through 2025.

A group of 98 landowners sued Atlantic Richfield in Montana state court for common law nuisance, trespass, and strict liability. Among other remedies, the landowners sought restoration damages, which under Montana law must be spent on rehabilitation of the property. The landowners’ proposed restoration plan includes measures beyond those the agency found necessary to protect human health and the environment.

We consider whether the Act strips the Montana courts of jurisdiction over the landowners’ claim for restoration damages and, if not, whether the Act requires the landowners to seek EPA approval for their restoration plan.

] In 1980, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 94 Stat. 2767, as amended, 42 U. S. C. §9601 et seq., also known as the Superfund statute, to address “the serious environmental and health risks posed by industrial pollution,” Burlington N. & S. F. R. Co. v. United States, 556 U. S. 599, 602, 129 S. Ct. 1870, 173 L. Ed. 2d 812 (2009). The Act seeks “to promote the timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and to ensure that the costs of such cleanup [**9]  efforts [are] borne by those responsible for the contamination.” CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, 573 U. S. 1, 4, 134 S. Ct. 2175, 189 L. Ed. 2d 62 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted).

] The Act directs EPA to compile and annually revise a prioritized list of contaminated sites for cleanup, commonly known as Superfund sites. 42 U. S. C. §9605. 1 EPA may clean those sites itself or compel responsible parties to perform the cleanup. §§9604, 9606, 9615. If the Government performs the cleanup, it may recover its costs from responsible parties. §9607(a)(4)(A). Responsible parties are jointly and severally liable for the full cost of the cleanup, but may seek contribution from other responsible parties. §9613(f)(1).

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206 L. Ed. 2d 516 *; 2020 U.S. LEXIS 2405 **


Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.


Atl. Richfield Co. v. Mont. Second Judicial Dist. Court, 2017 MT 324, 390 Mont. 76, 408 P.3d 515, 2017 Mont. LEXIS 730 (Dec. 29, 2017)

Disposition: 2017 MT 324, 390 Mont. 76, 408 P. 3d 515, affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.


landowners, EPA, cleanup, potentially responsible party, restoration, remedial action, state court, site, federal government, state law, contaminated, challenges, federal court, environmental, settlement, parties, removal, smelter, diversity, damages, plans, cases, costs, entertain, pollution, stripping, terms, The Act, properties, remedies

Environmental Law, CERCLA & Superfund, Enforcement, Cleanup Costs, Business & Corporate Compliance, Hazardous Wastes & Toxic Substances, Hazardous Substance Superfund, Abatement, Contribution Actions, Potentially Responsible Parties, Enforcement, Cleanup Standards, Civil Procedure, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction Over Actions, Exclusive Jurisdiction, Federal Versus State Law, Administrative Proceedings & Litigation, Jurisdiction, Torts, Types of Damages, Property Damages, Measurements, Jurisdiction on Certiorari, Considerations Governing Review, State Court Decisions, Remedies, Writs, Federal Versus State Law, Federal Preemption, Jurisdiction, Federal Questions, Cleanup, Preliminary Considerations, Diversity Jurisdiction, Concurrent Jurisdiction, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Potentially Responsible Parties, Operators & Owners, Defenses, Innocent Landowners, Statute of Limitations, Time Limitations, Civil Penalties, Contribution Actions, Settlements, Defenses, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Preponderance of Evidence, Damages, Property Damages