On June 11, the United States Supreme Court has paved the way for additional litigation under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). The Court’s decision in U.S. v. Atlantic Research Corporation, 06-562 clarified that CERCLA permits a private party, who may be responsible for the costs associated with cleaning a contaminated site, to initiate a lawsuit against another private party to seek recovery for the associated costs. Prior to this decision it was not clear whether a private party had to wait until an enforcement action was brought against it under CERCLA before it had a right to seek contribution from another party.
Governments and private parties have routinely used CERCLA, also known as the Federal Superfund, to bring enforcement actions against a responsible party for recovery of costs associated with responding to and rectifying a contaminated site. Until the Court’s decision in Atlantic Research, however, it was not clear whether a private party had to wait until it was sued in the enforcement action before it could seek contribution from another party for the costs associated with cleaning the site. The Atlantic Research Court stated that in addition to allowing a party to seek contribution from another after it has been sued, CERCLA gives a party the right to bring a direct action or to file a counterclaim against a party already involved in the enforcement action.
The Atlantic Research Court has now provided a guidepost for private parties seeking to recover costs associated with Superfund sites. Time will tell if the Court’s clarification has opened the floodgates for additional litigation.
Click here to read the Court’s decision.