U.S. Supreme Court Holds That The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation And Liability Act Does Not Preempt A State’s Statute Of Repose

U.S. Supreme Court Holds That The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation And Liability Act Does Not Preempt A State’s Statute Of Repose

 Monday, June 9, 2014, the United States Supreme Court released the decision in the case of CTS Corporation v. Peter Waldburger, et al. The case involved a tort action brought for damages that arose from the release of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant into the environment.

CTS sold property on which it had stored chemicals used in the operation of its electronics plant. More than twenty years later the owners of that property and adjacent properties were notified of the toxicity of their land and later filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. The property owners requested both monetary damages and remediation of any harm caused by the toxic substances.       

The District Court dismissed the action after determining that the 10 year statute of repose found in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-52(16) applied and that the last possible act or omission by CTS Corporation was when it sold the property, which was more than 10 years prior to the date the cause of action was filed. The district court also determined that the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, 42 USCS § 9658, did not preempt the 10 year limitation in the statute of repose.

            The case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which reversed. The Court of Appeals held that the discovery rule articulated in §9658 preempted North Carolina's ten-year limitation.

            The United States Supreme Court reversed. It noted that it was important to determine whether §9658 distinguished between statutes of limitation and statutes of repose. After defining both types of statutes, the Supreme Court noted that under the property owners’ interpretation, statutes of repose would cease to have any real function. The Supreme Court held that under a proper interpretation of §9658, statutes of repose are not within Congress’ pre-emption mandate and therefore the statute of repose in the instant case, which was 10 years, applied.

The briefs filed in the United States Supreme Court are here.

The case is CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, 2014 U.S. LEXIS 3992 (U.S. 2014).

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