Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian, 042020 FEDSC, 17-1498

Docket Nº:17-1498
Opinion Judge:ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE
Party Name:ATLANTIC RICHFIELD COMPANY, PETITIONER v. GREGORY A. CHRISTIAN, ET AL.
Judge Panel:ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, Parts I and II-A of which were unanimous, Part II-B of which was joined by THOMAS, GlNS-burg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, JJ., and Part III of which was joined by GlNSBURG, BREYER, Alito, SOTOMAYOR, Kagan, and Kavanaugh, JJ...
Case Date:April 20, 2020
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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590 U.S.___(2020)

ATLANTIC RICHFIELD COMPANY, PETITIONER

v.

GREGORY A. CHRISTIAN, ET AL.

No. 17-1498

United States Supreme Court

April 20, 2020

Argued December 3, 2019

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MONTANA No. 17-1498.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. §9601 et seq., also known as the Superfund statute, promotes "the timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and [ensures] that the costs of such cleanup efforts [are] borne by those responsible for the contamination," CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, 573 U.S. 1, 4 (internal quotation marks omitted). The Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency to compile and annually revise a prioritized list of contaminated sites for cleanup, known as Superfund sites, and makes responsible parties liable for the cost of the cleanup. Before a cleanup plan is selected, a remedial investigation and feasibility study is conducted to assess the contamination and evaluate cleanup options. Once that study begins, §122(e)(6) of the Act provides, "no potentially responsible party may undertake any remedial action" at the site without EPA approval. To insulate cleanup plans from collateral attack, §113(b) provides federal district courts with "exclusive original jurisdiction over all controversies arising under" the Act, and §113(h) then strips those courts of jurisdiction "to review any challenges to removal or remedial action," except in five limited circumstances.

For nearly a century, the Anaconda Copper Smelter in Butte, Montana contaminated an area of over 300 square miles with arsenic and lead. Over the past 35 years, EPA has worked with the current owner of the now-closed smelter, Atlantic Richfield Company, to implement a cleanup plan for a remediation expected to continue through 2025. A group of 98 landowners sued Atlantic Richfield in Montana state court for common law nuisance, trespass, and strict liability, seeking restoration damages, which Montana law requires to be spent on property rehabilitation. The landowners' proposed plan exceeds the measures found necessary to protect human health and the environment by EPA. The trial court granted summary judgment to the landowners on the issue of whether the Act precluded their restoration damages claim and allowed the lawsuit to continue. After granting a writ of supervisory control, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting Atlantic Richfield's argument that §113 stripped the Montana courts of jurisdiction over the landowners' claim and concluding that the landowners were not potentially responsible parties (or PRPs) prohibited from taking remedial action without EPA approval under §122(e)(6). Held:

1. This Court has jurisdiction to review the Montana Supreme Court's decision. To qualify as a final judgment subject to review under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a), a state court judgment must be "an effective determination of the litigation and not of merely interlocutory or intermediate steps therein." Jefferson v. City of Tarrant, 522 U.S. 75, 81. Under Montana law, a supervisory writ proceeding is a self-contained case, not an interlocutory appeal. Mont. Const., Art. VII, §§2(1)-(2); Mont. Rules App. Proc. 6(6), 14(1), 14(3). Thus, the writ issuedin this case is a "final judgment" within this Court's jurisdiction. Fisher v. District Court of Sixteenth Judicial Dist. of Mont., 424 U.S. 382, 385, n. 7. P. 8.

2. The Act does not strip the Montana courts of jurisdiction over this lawsuit. Section 113(b) of the Act provides that "the United States district courts shall have exclusive original jurisdiction over all controversies arising under this chapter," so state courts lack jurisdiction over such actions. The use of "arising under" in §113(b) echoes Congress's more familiar use of that phrase in granting federal courts jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. §1331. In the mine run of cases," [a] suit arises under the law that creates the cause of action." American Well Works Co. v. Layne & Bowler Co., 241 U.S. 257, 260. The landowners' common law nuisance, trespass, and strict liability claims arise under Montana law and not under the Act.

Atlantic Richfield mistakenly argues that § 113(h)-which states that "[n]o Federal court shall have jurisdiction under Federal law . . . to review any challenges to removal or remedial action" selected under the Act-implicitly broadens the scope of actions precluded from state court jurisdiction under §113(b). But §113(h) speaks of "Federal court[s]," not state courts. There is no textual basis for Atlantic Rich-field's argument that Congress precluded state courts from hearing a category of cases in §113(b) by stripping federal courts of jurisdiction over those cases in §113(h). Often the simplest explanation is the best: Section 113(b) deprives state courts of jurisdiction over cases "arising under" the Act-just as it says-while §113(h) deprives federal courts of jurisdiction over certain "challenges" to Superfund remedial actions-just as it says. Pp. 8-13.

3. The Montana Supreme Court erred by holding that the landowners were not potentially responsible parties under the Act and thus did not need EPA approval to take remedial action. To determine who is a potentially responsible party, the Court looks to the list of "covered persons" in §107, the Act's liability section, which includes any "owner" of "a facility." "Facility" in turn is defined to include "any site or area where a hazardous substance has been deposited, stored, disposed of, or placed, or otherwise come to be located." 42 U.S.C. §9601(9)(B). Because arsenic and lead are hazardous substances that have "come to be located" on the landowners' properties, the landowners are potentially responsible parties.

The landowners argue they are no longer potentially responsible parties because the Act's six-year limitations period for recovery of remedial costs has run, and thus they could not be held liable in a hypothetical lawsuit. But even" 'innocent' . . . landowner[s] whose land has been contaminated by another," and who are thus shielded from liability by §107(b)(3)'s so-called "innocent landowner" or "third party" defense, "may fall within the broad definitions of PRPs in §§107(a)(1)- (4)." United States v. Atlantic Research Corp., 551 U.S. 128, 136. The same principle holds true for parties facing no liability because of the Act's limitations period.

Interpreting "potentially responsible parties" to include owners of polluted property reflects the Act's objective to develop a "Comprehensive Environmental Response" to hazardous waste pollution. Section 122(e)(6) is one of several tools in the Act that ensure the careful development of a single EPA-led cleanup effort rather than tens of thousands of competing individual ones.

Yet under the landowners' interpretation, property owners would be free to dig up arsenic-infected soil and build trenches to redirect lead-contaminated groundwater without even notifying EPA, so long as they have not been sued within six years of commencement of the cleanup. Congress did not provide such a fragile remedy for such a serious problem.

The landowners alternatively argue that they are not potentially responsible parties because they did not receive the notice of settlement negotiations required by §122(e)(1). EPA has a policy of not suing innocent homeowners for pollution they did not cause, so it did not include the landowners in settlement negotiations. But EPA's nonenforcement policy does not alter the landowners' status as potentially responsible parties. Section 107(a) unambiguously defines potentially responsible parties, and EPA does not have authority to alter that definition.

The landowners also argue that § 122(e)(6) cannot carry the weight ascribed to it because it is located in the section on settlement negotiations. Settlements, however, are the heart of the Superfund statute. Section 122(a) of the Act commands EPA to proceed by settlement "[w]henever practicable and in the public interest ... in order to expedite effective remedial actions and minimize litigation." And EPAs efforts to negotiate settlement agreements and issue orders for cleanups account for approximately 69% of all cleanup work currently underway. Pp. 13-21.

390 Mont. 76, 408 P.3d 515, affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, Parts I and II-A of which were unanimous, Part II-B of which was joined by THOMAS, GlNS-burg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, JJ., and Part III of which was joined by GlNSBURG, BREYER, Alito, SOTOMAYOR, Kagan, and Kavanaugh, JJ. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. GORSUCH, J., filed an opinion concurring part and dissenting in part, in which THOMAS, J., joined.

OPINION

ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE

For nearly a century, the Anaconda Copper Smelter in Butte, Montana contaminated an area of over 300 square miles with arsenic and lead. Over the past 35 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has worked with the current owner of the smelter, Atlantic Richfield Company, to implement a cleanup plan under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. EPA projects that the cleanup will continue through 2025.

A group of 98 landowners sued Atlantic Richfield in Montana state court for common law nuisance, trespass, and strict liability. Among other remedies, the landowners sought restoration damages, which under Montana law must be spent on rehabilitation of the property. The landowners' proposed restoration plan includes measures beyond those the agency found necessary to protect...

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