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Meghrig v. KFC W., Inc.

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 20820
Nos. No. 95-83, 116 S. Ct. 1251/(U.S., 03/19/1996) rev'd

The U.S. Supreme Court holds that §7002 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) does not authorize a private cause of action to recover the prior cost of cleaning up toxic waste that does not, at the time of the suit, continue to pose an endangerment to health or the environment. The two remedies described in §7002(a) make clear that RCRA's citizen suit provision is not directed at providing compensation for past cleanup efforts. A private citizen suit under §7002(a)(1)(B) can be brought to seek either a mandatory injunction ordering a responsible party to clean up and properly dispose of toxic waste or a prohibitory injunction restraining a responsible party from further violating RCRA. Neither remedy, however, contemplates the award of past cleanup costs, whether denominated "damages" or "equitable restitution." Moreover, the relief the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) provides demonstrates that Congress knew how to provide for the recovery of cleanup costs, and that the language used to define the remedies under RCRA does not provide that remedy. The Court notes further that §7002(a)(1)(B) does not authorize a suit based on an allegation that the contaminated site posed an endangerment at some time in the past. The timing restriction's plain meaning demonstrates that there must be a threat that is present now, although the impact of the threat may not be felt until later. And the reference to waste that may present imminent harm excludes waste that no longer presents such a danger. The Court notes that it does not consider whether a private party may seek an injunction requiring another party to pay cleanup costs arising after a RCRA citizen suit has been properly commenced.

[The Ninth Circuit's decision is published at 25 ELR 20638.]

Counsel for Petitioners
John P. Zaimes
McClintock, Weston, Benshoof, Rochefort, Rubalcava & MacCuish
444 S. Flower St., 43d Fl., Los Angeles CA 90071
(213) 623-2322

Counsel for Respondent
Daniel Romano
100 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1300, Santa Monica CA 90401
(310) 451-4959