Posted on July 8, 2010 by Fournier J. Gale, III
On July 2, 2010, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama published a must read opinion regarding cost recovery claims under CERCLA. See Solutia, Inc., et al. v. McWane, Inc., et al., Case No. 03-1345, Document No. 622 (N.D. Ala. July 2, 2010).The case was originally filed by plaintiffs in 2003 as a CERCLA cost recovery and contribution action against several industrial defendants located in Anniston, Alabama related to plaintiffs’ cleanup of historic PCB contamination throughout the Anniston area. In June 2008, the Court had previously granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment regarding plaintiffs’ CERCLA Section 113 claims for contribution but had allowed plaintiffs to proceed with their CERCLA Section 107 cost recovery claims. However upon motion for reconsideration, the Court on July 2 issued a detailed opinion also dismissing with prejudice plaintiffs’ cost recovery claims under Section 107.
Of interest to CERCLA practitioners, the dismissal opinion provides a lengthy analysis, based on recent Circuit Court decisions, as to whether a plaintiff who seeks to recover costs of a cleanup performed pursuant to obligations under a consent decree or administrative settlement (aka “compelled” cleanup costs) can bring a claim under Section 107(a)(4)(B). Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court did not decide the appropriate route for recovering “compelled” costs (under Section 107(a), 113(f), or both) in its most recent opinion addressing CERCLA Sections 107 and 113. United States v. Atlantic Research Corp., 551 U.S. 128 (2007). Nevertheless, the Northern District of Alabama agreed to reconsider defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ Section 107 claims in light of Circuit Court decisions issued subsequent to Atlantic Research as well as new evidence. Indeed, the Court agreed with the defendants’ assessment that the majority of Circuit Court decisions decided after the Northern District’s previous denial of defendants’ motions for summary judgment have held that a party who incurred “compelled” cleanup has a viable Section 113 claim for contribution and not a Section 107 claim for cost recovery.
Ultimately the Court concluded that the recent Circuit Court decisions were correct in their assessment that Congress had intended for Section 113(f) to be the exclusive remedy to recover costs incurred pursuant to a judgment, consent decree, or settlement. Because the Court agreed withdefendants’ argument that plaintiffs’ costs related to its PCB cleanup were incurred by virtue of a prior consent decree, the plaintiffs only had a potential right to a Section 113 claim for contribution (which was previously dismissed) – not a Section 107 claim for recovery.
Again, the opinion is a helpful summary of evolving jurisprudence under CERCLA regarding Section 107 and Section 113 claims.