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United States v. Iron Mountain Mines, Inc.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20924
Nos. CIV-S-91-768 DFL JFM, 952 F. Supp. 673/(E.D. Cal., 12/27/1996) Recoupment

The court holds that defendants in a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) action brought by the state of California may bring CERCLA counterclaims against the state under the recoupment doctrine. The court first holds that California did not waive its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment by filing a CERCLA action in federal court. There is no persuasive case law supporting a general waiver. The court holds, however, that plaintiffs may bring CERCLA claims against the state in recoupment. A defensive claim in recoupment reasonably may be viewed as falling outside the scope of the Eleventh Amendment and application of the Eleventh Amendment may depend on whether any damages awarded would be paid out of the state's treasury. Under this test, a claim in recoupment is not a suit against a state because the relief sought is merely responsive to and no greater than the relief sought by the state and therefore requires no payment by the state from its treasury. A claim in recoupment must arise out of the same transaction or occurrence as the primary claim and the court concludes that it lacks sufficient facts to make this determination.

[Prior decisions in this litigation are published at 23 ELR 20651, 20661, and 25 ELR 21275.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
Martin F. McDermott
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Defendants
Paul B. Galvani
Ropes & Gray
One International Pl., Boston MA 02110
(617) 951-7000