Gov't of Guam v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: January 8, 2021
  • Case #: 20-382
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 950 F.3d 104 (D.C. Cir. 2020)
  • Full Text Opinion

1. Whether a non-CERCLA settlement can trigger a contribution claim under CERCLA Section 113(f)(3)(B). 2. Whether a settlement that expressly disclaims any liability determination and leaves the settling party exposed to future liability can trigger a contribution claim under CERCLA Section 113(f)(3)(B).

The U.S. Navy disposed of waste near Guam waterways without due regard for safety standards. The territory of Guam (Petitioner) brought this case, seeking damages from United States (Respondent) under the “Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act” (CERCLA). 42 U.S.C. 9607. The District Court ruled that the case was actionable. However, on appeal, this decision was reversed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reasoning that Petitioner’s claims were preempted by another section of CERCLA. 42 U.S.C. 113(f)(3)(B). Section 113(f)(3)(B) preempts claims against Respondent if the “liability” was “resolved” in an “administrative or judicially approved settlement.” Id. Petitioner sought review from the U.S. Supreme Court, assigning error to the court’s conclusion that a 2004 “consent decree” constituted such a settlement. Petitioner argued that the decree was expressly limited in scope by its plain language to violations of the “Clean Water Act” (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251, and inapplicable to CERCLA violations, 42 U.S.C. 9607(a). Petitioner specifically pointed to an established circuit-split over this matter. Compare Consolidated Edison Co. of N.Y., Inc. v. UGI Utils., Inc., 423 F.3d 90 (2d Cir. 2005) with Trinity Indus., Inc. v. Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., 735 F.3d 131 (3d Cir. 2013).

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