Supreme Court Agrees that CERCLA Does Not Preempt State Statute of Repose

On June 9 the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, a case we first blogged about last July (and noted in January that the Supreme Court would be reviewing).  The case dealt with the issue of federal preemption, a legal principle under which a federal law invalidates a conflicting state law. In a 7-2 opinion, the Court reversed a decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and held that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) did not preempt a North Carolina statute of repose.   Like statutes of limitation, statutes of repose bar claims after a certain period of time has passed, but the point at which a statute of repose begins to run is typically from the time the defendant last acted, and the time period to bring a claim runs out whether a plaintiff has discovered the defendant’s actions caused an injury or not.

The case turned on statutory interpretation.  The majority held that because the relevant provision in CERCLA referred only to state “statutes of limitation,” the provision did not serve to preempt state statutes of repose.  The decision was a defeat for a group of North Carolina landowners who had discovered their well water was contaminated over twenty years after the defendant industrial facility had ceased its operations on the land.

You can read the Court’s opinion here.

And find various analysis here.

Picture of Wade S. Kolb III

Wade S. Kolb III

Wade focuses his practice on litigation, appellate advocacy, education, internal investigations, and governmental representation. Since joining Wyche in the fall of 2011, Wade has had extensive experience in high-stakes commercial litigation, representing both plaintiffs and defendants in state and federal court.

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