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United States v. Atlantic Research Corp.

ELR Citation: 37 ELR 20139
Nos. No. 06-562, (U.S., 06/11/2007) Aff'd

The U.S. Supreme Court held that Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) §107(a) provides potentially responsible parties (PRPs) with a cause of action to recover costs from other PRPs. This interpretation will not create friction between CERCLA §§107(a) and 113(f). Rather, their two clearly distinct remedies complement each other. CERCLA §113(f)(1) authorizes a contribution action to PRPs with common liability stemming from an action instituted under §106 or §107(a), while §107(a) permits cost recovery (as distinct from contribution) by a private party that has itself incurred cleanup costs. In other words, a party can sue another PRP for contribution under §113(f), but the party can only sue under §107(a) for reimbursement of its own cleanup costs. Thus, at least in the case of reimbursement, a PRP cannot choose §107(a)'s longer statute of limitations for recovery actions over §113(f)'s shorter one for contribution claims. Similarly, a PRP could not avoid §113(f)'s equitable distribution of reimbursement costs among PRPs by instead choosing to impose joint and several liability under §107(a). Consequently, a company that voluntarily cleaned up a site it leased and contaminated while doing government work may sue the government to recover some of its costs under §107(a).

[A prior decision in this litigation is available at 36 ELR 20164.]