Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: June 10, 2019
  • Case #: 17-1498
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 408 P.3d 515 (Mont. 2017)
  • Full Text Opinion

1. Whether a common-law claim for restoration seeking cleanup remedies that conflict with EPA-ordered remedies is a “challenge” to EPA’s cleanup jurisdictionally barred by § 113 of CERCLA. 2. Whether a landowner at a Superfund site is a “potentially responsible party” that must seek EPA’s approval under CERCLA § 122(e)(6) before engaging in remedial action, even if EPA has never ordered the landowner to pay for a cleanup. 3. Whether CERCLA preempts state common law claims for restoration that seek cleanup remedies that conflict with EPA-ordered remedies.

Petitioner, the current operator of the Anaconda Smelter site, an EPA Superfund site, has been working with the EPA to remediate environmental damage to the area. Petitioner has spent over $470 million in remedial measures. In 2008 landowners within the Superfund site sued Petitioner for five types of damages. Petitioner objected, arguing restoration damages would require work in excess of that already completed. Petitioner filed for summary judgment arguing the claim was a challenge to the EPA’s remedy and was barred jurisdictionally by CERCLA § 113 and, since landowners are always potentially responsible parties, that it was barred by § 122(e)(6). The United States filed amicus briefs arguing CERCLA preempts restoration claims because they are the kind CERCLA was intended to prevent. The trial court permitted Respondents to proceed. The Montana Supreme Court affirmed, holding state tort remedies that conflict with EPA remedies are not a challenge barred by § 113(h). They also held § 122(e)(6) doesn’t apply because Respondents have never been treated as PRP’s and that CERCLA does not preempt state tort claims. Petitioners argue the decision below permits state tort suits to obstruct CERCLA cleanups under the EPA’S direction, which are already complex and costly. Petitioners assert that the decision below splits with several federal courts of appeals’ decisions interpreting CERCLA, that the decision ignores the plaint text and purpose of CERCLA, and that the questions presented are pertinent, recurring issues which require resolution.

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