Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Restatement for Joint and Several Liability Under CERCLA After <BI>Burlington Northern<D>

November 2009

Citation: 39 ELR 11058

Issue: 11

Author: Alfred R. Light

This past May, the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time addressed two issues that the U.S. Congress left open in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). These issues are: (1) the scope of "generator" or "arranger" liability under the language of CERCLA §107(a)(3); and (2) the circumstances under which a liable party under §1073 may be held jointly and severally liable. Rejecting the position of the U.S. government on both issues, the Court found that the government had attempted to extend CERCLA generator liability "beyond the limits of the statute itself" and that, despite the government's "refusal to acknowledge the potential divisibility of the harm," the district court's rough formula limiting the CERCLA liability of the railroad defendants to 9% of the government's total response costs "was supported by the evidence and comports with the apportionment principles" to which members of Congress had made reference in 1980--"traditional and evolving principles of common law" set forth in the American Law Institute's (ALI's) Restatements.

Because the Court first addressed these two issues more than 28 years after CERCLA's enactment and because of the fact that the Court rejected the government's litigation position, which it had asserted regularly in the lower courts, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. United States has implications for the precedential effect of hundreds of lower court opinions. This is especially so with respect to the second issue: the application of joint and several liability. Below, we adopt the artifice of a hypothetical Restatement for this area of Superfund jurisprudence. Following the structure of a Restatement, there are three subdivisions: (1) the black-letter law, reflecting an assessment of the current applicable legal rules in summary form after Burlington Northern; (2) Comments and Illustrations, reflecting an elaboration and application of these rules with reference to prior cases; and (3) Reporter's Notes, reflecting commentary about these rules, applications, and likely areas of ambiguity or dispute that courts may need to visit or revisit.

Alfred R. Light is Professor of Law at St. Thomas University School of Law, Miami Gardens, Florida.

Download Article >>>