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United States v. Atl. Research Corp.

Supreme Court of the United States

April 23, 2007, Argued ; June 11, 2007, Decided

No. 06-562

Opinion

 [*131]  [**2333]  Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

Two provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA)--§§ 107(a) and 113(f)--allow private parties to recover expenses associated with cleaning up contaminated sites. 42 U.S.C. §§ 9607(a), 9613(f). In this case, we must [**2334]  decide a question left open in Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Aviall Services, Inc., 543 U.S. 157, 161, 125 S. Ct. 577, 160 L. Ed. 2d 548 (2004): whether § 107(a) provides so-called potentially responsible parties (PRPs), 42 U.S.C. §§ 9607 (a)(1)-(4), [****6]  with a cause of action to recover costs from other PRPs. We hold that it does.

Courts have frequently grappled  [***36] with whether and how PRPs may recoup CERCLA-related costs from other PRPs. The questions lie at the intersection of two statutory provisions--CERCLA §§ 107(a) and 113(f). Section 107(a) defines  [*132]  four categories of PRPs, 94 Stat. 2781, 42 U.S.C. §§ 9607(a)(1)-(4), and makes them liable for, among other things:

"(A) all costs of removal or remedial action incurred by the United States Government or a State or an Indian tribe not inconsistent with the national contingency plan; [and]

"(B) any other necessary costs of response incurred by any other person consistent with the national contingency plan." § 9607(a)(4)(A)-(B).

Enacted as part of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA), 100 Stat. 1613, § 113(f) authorizes one PRP to sue another for contribution in certain circumstances. 42 U.S.C. § 9613(f).1

 [****7] Prior to the advent of § 113(f)'s express contribution right, some courts held that § 107(a)(4)(B) provided a cause of action for a private party to recover voluntarily incurred response costs and to seek contribution after having been sued. See Cooper Industries, supra, at 161-162, 125 S. Ct. 577, 160 L. Ed. 2d 548 (collecting cases); Key Tronic Corp. v. United States, 511 U.S. 809, 816, n 7, 114 S. Ct. 1960, 128 L. Ed. 2d 797 (1994) same. After SARA's enactment, however, some Courts of Appeals believed it necessary to "direc[t] traffic between" §§ 107(a) and 113(f). 459 F.3d 827, 832 (CA8 2006) (case below).  As a result, many Courts of Appeals held that § 113(f) was the exclusive remedy for PRPs. See Cooper Industries, supra, at 169, 125 S. Ct. 577, 160 L. Ed. 2d 548 (collecting cases). But as courts prevented PRPs from suing under § 107(a), they expanded § 113(f) to allow PRPs to seek "contribution" even in the absence of a suit under § 106 or § 107(a).  Aviall Servs., Inc. v.  [*133]  Cooper Industries, Inc., 312 F.3d 677, 681 (CA5 2002) (en banc).

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551 U.S. 128 *; 127 S. Ct. 2331 **; 168 L. Ed. 2d 28 ***; 2007 U.S. LEXIS 7718 ****; 75 U.S.L.W. 4408; 22 A.L.R. Fed. 2d 735; 37 ELR 20139; 64 ERC (BNA) 1385; 20 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 336

UNITED STATES, Petitioner v. ATLANTIC RESEARCH CORPORATION

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

Atl. Research Corp. v. United States, 459 F.3d 827, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 20557 (8th Cir. Ark., 2006)

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

costs, settlement, parties, court of appeals, private party, cause of action, cleanup costs, authorizes, equitable, reimbursement, provisions, permits, site

Environmental Law, CERCLA & Superfund, Enforcement, Cleanup Costs, Contribution Actions, General Overview, Potentially Responsible Parties, Cost Recovery Actions, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Operators & Owners, Strict Liability, Settlements, Statute of Limitations, Time Limitations, Torts, Multiple Defendants, Contribution