Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: April 20, 2020
  • Case #: 17-1498
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, Parts I and II–A of which were unanimous, Part II–B of which was joined by THOMAS, GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, GORSUCH, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., and Part III of which was joined by GINSBURG, BREYER, ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, and KAVANAUGH, JJ. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. GORSUCH, J., filed an opinion concurring part and dissenting in part, in which THOMAS, J., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

A state court retains jurisdiction to hear claims arising under state common law despite Congress’ grant of exclusive original jurisdiction to the district courts to hear controversies arising under 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq. Landowners within a Superfund site may be considered potentially responsible parties for purposes of needing EPA approval to take remedial action under 42 U.S.C. § 9622(e)(6).

Petitioner owns a copper smelter that had previously contaminated 300 square miles of land with arsenic and lead and is considered a Superfund site under 42 U.S.C. § 9605. Respondents are landowners within the Superfund site who sued Petitioner in state court for common law nuisance, trespass, and strict liability and sought restoration damages that includes measures beyond what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires. The state supreme court rejected both of Petitioner’s arguments, that the court was stripped of jurisdiction over Respondent’s claim for restoration damages and that Respondents were potentially responsible parties. The United States Supreme Court held that the state court has jurisdiction over the suit even though 42 U.S.C. § 9613(b) grants exclusive original jurisdiction to the district courts because the common law claims arise under state law and not under the federal act for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court further held that the state court erred in its holding that the Respondents were not potentially responsible parties. The definition under 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a) is broad and the Court has previously held that a party who is not responsible for the contamination may still fall within the statute’s definition. United States v. Atlantic Research Corp., 551 U.S. 128, 136 (2007). AFFIRMED in part, VACATED in part, and REMANDED.

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