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Guam v. United States

ELR Citation: 51 ELR 20092
Nos. 20-382, (U.S., 05/24/2021)

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a settlement of environmental liabilities must resolve a CERCLA-specific liability to give rise to a contribution action under §113(f)(3)(B), in a lawsuit concerning a landfill in Guam formerly owned by the U.S. Navy. After entering into a consent decree in 2004 to resolve litigation filed by EPA alleging CWA violations, Guam sued the United States under CERCLA, alleging that its use of the landfill exposed it to a cost-recovery action and a contribution action under §§107(a) and 113(f), respectively. The D.C. Circuit rejected both claims, determining that although Guam once possessed a CERCLA contribution claim based on the 2004 consent decree that sufficiently resolved its liability, that claim was time barred, and that a party eligible to pursue a contribution claim under §113(f) could not assert a cost-recovery claim under §107(a). On appeal, Guam argued the 2004 consent decree did not give rise to a viable contribution claim, leaving it free to pursue a cost-recovery action. The high court interpreted §113(f) to mean that a party may seek contribution under CERCLA only after settling a CERCLA-specific liability, as opposed to resolving environmental liability under another statute, and reversed the D.C. Circuit and remanded for further proceedings. Thomas, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.