Law School Case Brief
Asarco, LLC v. Union Pac. R.R. Co. - 765 F.3d 999 (9th Cir. 2014)
An otherwise time-barred claim in an amended pleading is deemed timely if it relates back to the date of a timely original pleading. Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(B), an amendment asserting a new or changed claim relates back to the date of the original pleading if the amendment arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out in the original pleading. An amended claim arises out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence if it will likely be proved by the same kind of evidence offered in support of the original pleading. To relate back, the original and amended pleadings must share a common core of operative facts so that the adverse party has fair notice of the transaction, occurrence, or conduct called into question. The relation back doctrine of Rule 15(c) is liberally applied.
ASARCO, LLC ("Asarco") appealed the district court's dismissal of its contribution action brought under § 113(f) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act ("CERCLA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601-9675. Asarco sought to recover from Union Pacific Railroad Co. and Union Pacific Corp. (together, "Union Pacific") a share of $482 million in cleanup costs Asarco paid for environmental harm at the Coeur d'Alene Superfund Site in Northern Idaho. The district court dismissed the action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), concluding that although Asarco's claim was timely, it was barred by a 2008 settlement agreement between the parties that settled Union Pacific's claims against Asarco at the same site.
Was Asarco’s claim barred by a 2008 settlement agreement between the parties that settled Union Pacific's claims against Asarco at the same site?
The court held that Asarco’s claim was not barred by CERCLA's three-year statute of limitations for claims seeking contribution after entry of a judicially approved settlement. The court held that even though the first amended complaint included allegations that were expressly disclaimed in the original complaint, it related back to the date of the original complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(B) because it arose out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence as that set forth in the original complaint. According to the court, the original complaint was timely because Rule 6(a)'s general rule for counting time, excluding the day of the event that triggered the period, applied. The court concluded that Asarco’s claim was not unambiguously barred by a prior agreement that settled the defendant's claims against the mining company at the same site. The settlement was ambiguous because it could be reasonably understood to release only claims involving remaining sites costs incurred by Union Pacific. It was error for the district court to conclude otherwise.
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