Supreme Court to Rule on Whether CERCLA’S Statute of Limitations Preemption Clause Also Preempts State Statutes of Repose

Last July, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) preemption clause, 42 U.S.C. 9658(a)(1), which preempts state statutes of limitation with that prescribed under CERCLA, also preempts North Carolina’s state statute of repose.  Waldburger v. CTS Corp., 723 F.3d 434 (4th Cir. 2013).

While statutes of limitation limit the amount of time that a plaintiff has to bring a claim after the date the injury occurred, or the date he should have known of the injury and its cause (or other similar triggering event), state statutes of repose bar claims after a certain amount of time following the last act of the defendant giving rise to the claim — even if that is before the plaintiff knew or should have known of any harm.

CERCLA’s preemption clause only expressly mentions statutes of limitations.  However, the Fourth Circuit found that the repose statute still worked as a limitation, and that the congressional intent was to allow CERCLA claims to proceed more liberally, not to bar claims before they might even exist.  The Fourth Circuit divided on the decision, 2-2.

Following the Fourth Circuit’s decision, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review, and will hear oral argument on this matter on April 23, 2014.  CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, No. 13-339.  Interestingly, the United States itself joins CTS and other amici defense and defendant groups in advocating for the narrower reading of section 9658.  In its amicus curiae brief, the United States discusses how its own interest lies in the fact that it has been sued in North Carolina, and it has advocated the same position in those proceedings in its own defense.

Stay tuned for updates on the resolution of this appeal, which could have wide-ranging impacts on the ability to bring CERCLA claims in states where statutes of repose exist.

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