Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Supreme Court Ruling Makes Government Recovery More Difficult in Toxic Torts

In Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 to limit corporate liability under Superfund.  Here's an except from Adam Liptak's article in the New York Times:

 The federal government had sought to hold the Shell Oil Company responsible for selling pesticides to the business, where the chemicals routinely leaked and spilled. The distribution business, Brown & Bryant, later became insolvent and ceased operations.
Shell argued that it could not be held responsible for the spills because it did not qualify under the relevant part of the Superfund law, which applies to companies that “arranged for disposal” of hazardous substances. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority in the 8-to-1 decision, said the statutory language applied only when companies took “intentional steps to dispose of a hazardous substance.”
“Shell’s mere knowledge that spills and leaks continued to occur” with each delivery, Justice Stevens continued, “is insufficient grounds for concluding that Shell ‘arranged for’ the disposal.”
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that Shell was “well aware” that its deliveries “directly and routinely” resulted in spills and leaks for more than 20 years. She added that she would have placed the cleanup costs on a company “whose activities contributed to the contamination rather than on the taxpaying public.”



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