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Under Montana law, a supervisory writ proceeding is a self-contained case, not an interlocutory appeal. Mont. Const. art. VII, § 2(1)-(2); Mont. R. App. P. 6(6), 14(1), 14(3). Thus a writ of supervisory control issued by the Montana Supreme Court is a final judgment within the U.S. Supreme Court's jurisdiction.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U. S. C. §9601 et seq., also known as the Superfund statute, promotes “the timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and [ensures] that the costs of such cleanup 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. The Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency to compile and annually revise a prioritized list of contaminated sites for cleanup, known as Superfund sites, and makes responsible parties liable for the cost of the cleanup. Before a cleanup plan is selected, a remedial investigation and feasibility study is conducted to assess the contamination and evaluate cleanup options. Once that study begins, §122(e)(6) of the Act provides, “no potentially responsible party may undertake any remedial action” at the site without EPA approval. To insulate cleanup plans from collateral attack, §113(b) provides federal district courts with “exclusive original jurisdiction over all controversies arising under” the Act, and §113(h) then strips those courts of jurisdiction “to review any challenges to removal or remedial action,” except in five limited circumstances. 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, EPA has worked with the current owner of the now-closed smelter, Atlantic Richfield Company, to implement a cleanup plan for a remediation expected to continue through 2025. A group of 98 landowners sued Atlantic Richfield in Montana state court for common law nuisance, trespass, and strict liability, seeking restoration damages, which Montana law requires to be spent on property rehabilitation. The landowners' proposed plan exceeds the measures found necessary to protect human health and the environment by EPA. The trial court granted summary judgment to the landowners on the issue of whether the Act precluded their restoration damages claim and allowed the lawsuit to continue. After granting a writ of supervisory control, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting Atlantic Richfield's argument that §113 stripped the Montana courts of jurisdiction over the landowners' claim and concluding that the landowners were not potentially responsible parties (or PRPs) prohibited from taking remedial action without EPA approval under §122(e)(6).
Did the Act strip the Montana courts of jurisdiction over the landowners’ claim for restoration damage?
The court held that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 9613(b), did not strip the Montana courts of jurisdiction over landowners' suit against a smelter owner for common law nuisance, trespass, and strict liability because the claims arose under Montana law and not under the Act. The state court erred by holding that the landowners were not potentially responsible parties (PRPs) and therefore did not need EPA approval pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 9622(e)(6) to take remedial action. The landowners were PRPs under 42 U.S.C.S. § 9607(a)(1) because arsenic and lead had come to be located on their properties; -The landowners could not establish that they were contiguous property owners under § 9607(q) because they had reason to know their property could be contaminated by a release or threatened release of a hazardous substance.