United States Supreme Court Says that CERCLA Does Not Preempt State Statute of Repose.

The petitioner sold property on which it had stored chemicals as part its operations as an electronics plant. Twenty-four years later, the respondents, who owned portions of that property, as well as adjacent property, filed an action against the petitioner, alleging contamination of its well water from the stored contaminants. The petitioner sought to dismiss on the grounds that N.C. Gen. Stat. §1-52(16) , a state statute of repose, prevented subjecting a defendant to a tort suit brought more than 10 years after the defendant’s last culpable act. The district court granted the motion, but the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the state statute was preempted by a portion of The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. §9658, which preempted statutes of limitations applicable to state-law tort actions in certain circumstances. In reversing the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, the United States Supreme Court held that §9658 does not preempt  state statutes of repose. Relying on the text and structure of the CERCLA statute, the Court found that Congress did not intend to preempt state statutes of repose with § 9658. The Court found that “pre-emption” in the statute was characterized as an “exception,” to the regular rule that the “the statute of limitations established under State law” applied. The Court also found that the “applicable limitations period,” the “commencement date” of which is subject to preemption, was defined as the period specified in a “statute of limitations,” a term that appears four times in the statute. The Court noted that the phrase “statute of repose,” does not appear at all. As such, the Court ruled that CERCLA was not intended to preempt state statutes of repose, and the respondents' action was barred by N.C. Gen. Stat. §1-52(16). Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority, while Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer dissented, arguing that Congress did not intend a distinction between statutes of repose and statutes of limitations. The dissent cautioned that the majority ruling would give “contaminators an incentive to conceal the hazards they have created until the repose period has run its full course.” CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, No. 13-339 , 2014 U.S. LEXIS 3992 (U.S. Sup. Ct. Jun. 9, 2014).

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