Posted on May 14, 2012 by Jarred Taylor
The ACOEL blog has devoted several entries over the last two years to the question whether and how a plaintiff could recover, under CERCLA, costs it incurred for a cleanup performed under a consent decree or administrative settlement. One of the more intriguing developments for CERCLA practitioners has been the tension between and radical differences to cost recovery or contribution claims under Sections 107 and 113 of CERCLA. One of the more recent developments is the 11th Circuit decision in Solutia v. McWane (Full disclosure: I am counsel to several defendants in this case).
“Boots” Gale previously blogged about the District Court decision. The District Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ Section 113 claim on the basis that these Defendants had the benefit of CERCLA’s contribution protection obtained via their own administrative settlement with EPA. Initially, the District Court denied summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ Section 107 claim, but then reconsidered and reversed that decision.
The 11th Circuit noted that the Supreme Court’s Atlantic Research decision declined to decide the issue of whether a party may bring a 107(a) claim for direct cleanup costs incurred via a consent decree entered as past of CERCLA Section 106/107 litigation. The 11th Circuit confirmed, however, the conclusion of the District Court that numerous federal Circuit Courts had reached that issue since that time, each one concluding Section 113 to be the party’s exclusive remedy, and denying the Section 107 claim. Relying in part on the conclusions reached by these other Circuit Courts, the 11th Circuit rejected Plaintiffs’ statutory interpretation arguments, and concluded that a party who has a CERCLA Section 113(f) claim cannot also maintain a CERCLA Section 107 claim. To find otherwise, the 11th Circuit concluded, would “thwart the contribution protection afforded to parties that settle their liability with the EPA…”, “destroy CERCLA’s statutorily-created settlement initiative…”, would allow a plaintiff to impose joint and several liability on defendants, and would prevent those defendants from asserting any Section 113(f) counterclaim since the plaintiffs would have their own CERCLA contribution protection via their consent decree.
The time has not run yet for the Plaintiffs in this case to seek certiorari from the Supreme Court. In light of the unanimity of the federal Circuit Courts on this issue, it seems unlikely that the Court would accept the case for decision, despite the importance of the issue and the Court’s decision not to reach the issue in its 2007 decision in Atlantic Research.