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First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville v. U.S. Gypsum Co.

Citation: 19 ELR 21451
No. No. 88-1612, 882 F.2d 862/30 ERC 1111/(4th Cir., 08/10/1989)

The court holds that § 309 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) does not preempt a Maryland statute of repose in a private party asbestos-removal action against a manufacturer, and the manufacturer's alleged fraudulent concealment of the product's hazards does not toll the statute's running. CERCLA's plain language and legislative history demonstrate that Congress did not intend to preempt state statutes of repose in private cost recovery actions for asbestos removal from building structures. It would be anomalous for Congress to limit the President's authority to respond to a particular type of environmental hazard while placing no limits on members of the general public. Moreover, it Congress had intended for CERCLA to address the monumental asbestos problem, it would have directly stated so when it passed the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986. While CERCLA is a far-reaching remedial statute crafted to address the nation's environmental problems, it cannot reasonably be interpreted to encompass asbestos-removal actions. The court also holds that the Maryland statute of repose insulates from liability a broad class of parties, including manufacturers of products used in improvements to real property, and it is not tolled by the manufacturer's alleged fraudulent concealment of asbestos-related hazards. A statute of repose creates a substantive right and grants immunity to protected parties to be free from liability after a legislatively-determined period of time. The statute's period of repose is based on considerations of the best interests of the public in having improvements built safely and at a reasonable cost, and strikes a legislative balance between the rights of potential plaintiffs and defendants by determining a time limit beyond which liability no longer exists. Because tolling mechanisms had expanded the liability of potential defendants for alleged fraudulent conduct, Maryland's statute of repose limits the manufacturer's liability for the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property.

Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant
Peter Tyler Enslein
Ashcraft & Gerel
Ste. 101, 4301 Garden City Dr., Landover MD 20785
(301) 459-8400

Counsel for Defendant-Appellee
George Albert Nilson
Piper & Marbury
36 S. Charles St., Baltimore MD 21201
(301) 539-2530

Before RUSSELL and HALL, Circuit Judges, and BUTZNER, Senior Circuit Judge.