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Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20101
Nos. 17-1498, (U.S., 04/20/2020)

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the Montana high court's ruling in a lawsuit concerning cleanup actions across a 300-square-mile Superfund site in Butte. Landowners whose properties are located within the site brought trespass, nuisance, and strict liability claims under Montana common law, and sought restoration damages. The current owner of the site argued that §113 of CERCLA stripped Montana courts of jurisdiction over the landowners' claim, and that the landowners were potentially responsible parties (PRPs) and thus prohibited from taking remedial action without EPA approval under §122(e)(6) of the Act. The Montana court rejected both arguments, finding that §113 stripped the court of jurisdiction to review challenges to EPA cleanup plans but that the landowners' cleanup plan did not present such a challenge, and that the landowners had not been treated as PRPs since the designation of the Superfund site. On appeal, the Supreme Court concluded that the state high court correctly found that CERCLA did not strip Montana courts of jurisdiction because the landowners' claims arose under state law, not under CERCLA. As to the issue of PRPs, however, the Court concluded the landowners were PRPs because hazardous substances—arsenic and lead—had "come to be located" on their properties, and thus were not allowed to take remedial action without EPA approval. It therefore affirmed in part and vacated in part the Montana high court's judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, Parts I and II–A of which were unanimous, Part II–B of which was joined by Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, JJ., and Part III of which was joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Kavanugh, JJ. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. Gorsuch, J., filed an opinion concurring part and dissenting in part, in which Thomas, J., joined.