CTS CORP. v. WALDBERGER
In 1980, in response to concerns about the repercussions of toxic waste dumping, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which was designed to establish a comprehensive response mechanism and to shift the cost of the clean-up to the parties responsible. In 1986, Congress amended CERCLA by adding a section stating that, if a state statute of limitations allows the period in which action may be brought to begin before the plaintiff has knowledge of the harm, CERCLA preempts the state statute and allows the period to begin only from the point at which the plaintiff has knowledge.
CTS Corporation (CTS) manufactures and disposes of electronics and electronic parts. From 1959 to 1985, CTS operated the Mills Gap Road Facility (Facility) in Asheville, North Carolina, where notable quantities of carcinogenic solvents were stored. In 1987, CTS sold the Facility and promised the realtors that the property was environmentally safe and clean. Subsequently, the land was sold to David Bradley, Renee Richardson, and others (landowners), who learned that the land was contaminated and that their well water contained concentrated levels of carcinogenic solvents in 2009. The landowners sued CTS in federal district court and argued that CTS should be required to remove the toxic contaminants as well as pay monetary damages. CTS moved to dismiss the case by arguing that North Carolina’s ten-year statute of limitations on real property actions resulting from physical damage to a claimant’s property prevented the suit from going forward. Although the landowners argued that CERCLA preempted the limitation, the district court held that the ten-year limitation was actually a statute of repose, which limits legal action to a particular timeframe regardless of when the harm becomes apparent. The district court granted the motion to dismiss. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed and held that CERCLA’s preemption applied to both statutes of repose, in which a plaintiff’s knowledge of the harm is not relevant to when the time period begins, as well as to statutes of limitation, in which a plaintiff’s knowledge of the harm is relevant.
Did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit correctly interpret CERCLA to apply to statutes of repose as well as to statutes of limitations?