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Waldburger v. CTS Corp

ELR Citation: 43 ELR 20150
Nos. 12-1290, (4th Cir., 07/10/2013)

The Fourth Circuit held that the discovery rule set forth in CERCLA §309 preempts North Carolina's 10-year limitation on the accrual of real property claims. The case arose after landowners filed a nuisance action against a corporation for allegedly contaminating their well water with concentrated levels of trichloroethylene and cis-1,2-dichloroethane, both solvents that have carcinogenic effects. Because the corporation has not had any operations at the site since it was sold in 1987, more than 10 years before the landowners filed suit, it argued that the case should be dismissed because North Carolina's 10-year limitation on the accrual of real property actions barred the claim. The lower court agreed and dismissed the case. It reasoned that because the 10-year limitation is a statute of repose, and because CERCLA §309 mentions only statutes of limitations, §309 is inapplicable here. But despite the lower court's conclusion to the contrary, §309 is ambiguous, as it could also be interpreted as including repose limitations such as North Carolina's. The appellate court therefore looked at the legislative intent and held that §309 does apply. Refusing to apply §309 to statutes of repose allows states to obliterate legitimate causes of action before they exist. This is precisely the barrier that Congress intended §309 to address. The court, therefore, reversed and remanded the lower court's dismissal of the case.