551 US 128 (2007)
Jan 19, 2007
Apr 23, 2007
Jun 11, 2007
Thomas G. Hungar Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner
Owen T. Armstrong Jr. argued the cause for the respondent
Jay D. Geck on behalf of Washington, et al., as amici curiae, supporting the respondent
Facts of the case
Atlantic Research Corp. (Atlantic) built rocket motors for the United States government at an Arkansas facility. When residue from burnt rocket fuel contaminated the site, Atlantic voluntarily cleaned up the contamination and later sought cost recovery from the government under Section 107(a) and Section 113(f) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Some Courts of Appeals had interpreted Section 107(a) as implicitly allowing a party responsible for contamination to compel other partly-responsible parties to contribute to the clean-up. The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 added Section 113(f), which makes explicit the right to sue for contribution.
While Atlantic was negotiating with the government, the Supreme Court ruled in Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Aviall Services, Inc. that a party cannot bring a Section 113(f) claim for contribution unless it is already the subject of a Section 107(a) contamination action. Atlantic filed a new claim for contribution under Section 107(a), but a district court denied the claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit had previously ruled that a liable party must use Section 113(f), not Section 107(a), to file a contribution claim. Atlantic argued that failure to meet the requirements of Section 113(f) did not foreclose the implied Section 107(a) right to sue other partly-responsible parties for contribution.
Can a party that is potentially responsible for the cost of cleaning up contaminated property under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) bring an action against another potentially responsible party under Section 107(a), even if the party does not satisfy the requirements for bringing an action for contribution under Section 113(f) of CERCLA?