Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ninth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of CERCLA Contribution Action

On August 27, the Ninth Circuit (Tashima, Murguia, Carney (by designation)) issued a decision in Asarco, LLC v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, No. 13-35356.  This case arose out of the ongoing cleanup of contamination resulting from mining in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene River watershed.  Asarco and Union Pacific were among the parties liable for the cleanup costs.  In 2009, Asarco entered into a settlement with the United States resolving its liability for response costs and natural resource damages associated with the site.   Asarco then filed a contribution action against Union Pacific seeking to recoup some of the costs Asarco paid under the settlement.  Union Pacific argued that Asarco’s complaint was time barred and precluded by a 2008 settlement between Asarco and Union Pacific.  The district court held that Asarco’s complaint was not time barred, but dismissed Asarco’s complaint on the ground that it was barred by the terms of the 2008 settlement.  On appeal, Union Pacific renewed its statute of limitations argument in addition to defending the district court’s holding that Asarco’s complaint was barred by the earlier settlement.  The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding (a) that Asarco’s claim was not time barred because its complaint related back to an earlier complaint, even though Asarco’s amended complaint covered claims associated with geographic areas specifically excluded in its original complaint; (b) that Asarco’s earlier complaint was timely because CERCLA § 113(g)(3) does not override Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(a)’s “anniversary method” of counting time; and (c) that Asarco’s earlier settlement with Union Pacific did not unambiguously bar Asarco’s contribution action and therefore raised a fact issue not resolvable on a motion to dismiss.

—Todd Aagaard

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/environmental_law/2014/08/ninth-circuit-reverses-dismissal-of-cercla-contribution-action.html

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