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Law School Case Brief

Kelley v. United States EPA - 304 U.S. App. D.C. 369, 15 F.3d 1100 (1994)

Rule:

Even if an agency enjoys authority to determine a legal issue administratively, deference is withheld if a private party can bring the issue independently to federal court under a private right of action. 

Facts:

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C.S. § 9601 et seq. was enacted by Congress to provide compensation for hazardous substances released into the environment and the cleanup of inactive hazardous waste sites. CERCLA authorized private parties and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to bring independent civil actions to recover cleanup costs. CERCLA imposed strict liability on the present "owners" of hazardous sites but also included an exemption for secured creditors holding ownership rights to protect their interests. Due to conflicting judicial interpretations as to the scope of the exemption, the EPA issued a regulation that defined the liability of secured creditors in both federal and private party litigation. Petitioners Frank J. Kelley, the Governor of the State of Michigan, and others, filed a petition for review challenging the EPA's regulation. 

Issue:

Was the EPA's regulation that defined the liability of secured creditors in both federal and private party litigation under CERCLA proper?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The appellate court granted the petition for review and vacated the EPA's regulation. The curt held that the EPA lacked statutory authority to restrict by regulation private rights of action arising under CERCLA.

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