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State v. Atlantic Richfield Co.

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20099
Nos. 2015-201, (Vt., 05/27/2016)

The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision dismissing as untimely the state's claims against a number of companies for generalized injury to state waters due to groundwater contamination from methyl tertiary butyl ether, a gasoline additive. The state's lawsuit was barred by the six-year statute of limitations for civil actions. The state argued that 12 Vt. Stat. Ann. §462, which provides that statutes of limitations shall not extend to “lands belonging to the state,” exempts the state's claims from the six-year statute of limitations. But §462 is limited to claims of adverse possession. It does not extend to the state’s claims for injury to groundwater held in public trust by the state. Alternatively, Vermont argued that its claims arising under 10 Vt. Stat. Ann. §1390, which establishes a state policy that the groundwater resources of the state are held in trust for the public, rendered the claim timely because that statute went into effect less than six years before the state filed its complaint. Again, the court was not persuaded. Even if §1390 did create a new cause of action that was retroactively enforceable, that would not empower the state to apply the statute to injuries discovered more than six years prior to its complaint.