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Boyce v. Bumb

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20571
Nos. C-96-20327 EAI, 944 F. Supp. 807/(N.D. Cal., 10/16/1996)

The court holds that Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) claims by owners of property within an inactive landfill against a prior landfill owner and operator are for contribution under CERCLA §113(f)(1) rather than for cost recovery under §107(a). The court first holds that a claim by one potentially responsible party (PRP) against another PRP is a contribution claim. Courts of Appeals that have considered the issue have held that when one liable or potentially liable party sues another, the action is one for contribution that is governed, for remedies purposes, by §113(f)(1). The court rejects plaintiffs' argument that PRPs who voluntarily undertake a cleanup are still free to bring an action for full cost recovery under §107(a). The court recognizes that PRPs who take voluntary cleanup action appear to fall outside the framework of §113(f)(1). The statute of limitations for actions brought under §113(f)(1) is three years from the date of judgment in any action for costs or damages, or from the date of an administrative order or entry of a judicially approved settlement, and a volunteer PRP falls under none of those categories. The court holds, however, that whether the current owners' claims fall under §107(a) as implied contribution claims or under §113(f)(1) as express contribution claims is, in this case, a distinction without meaning. Regardless of how plaintiffs wish to label their claims, the substance of the action is for contribution and liability will be equitably apportioned under §113(f). The court next holds that although the current owners are presumptively PRPs by virtue of their current ownership of the landfill, they are free to maintain a cost recovery action under §107(a) if they can prove themselves to be nonresponsible innocent landowners within the meaning of §§101(35) and 107(b).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Jeffrey S. Lawson
Reed, Elliott, Creech & Roth
99 Almaden Blvd., Ste. 800, San Jose CA 95113
(408) 993-9911

Counsel for Defendants
Terry A. Trumbull
Law Offices of Terry A. Trumbull
1011 Lincoln Ave., Palo Alto CA 94301
(415) 892-4618