Oregon’s Statute of Repose May Block Common Law Environmental Claims


Oregon’s 10-year statute of repose may now play a bigger role in environmental lawsuits in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, does not supersede a state statute of repose for bringing trespass, nuisance or negligence claims.

The Court ruled in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger that a provision in CERCLA preempting statutes of limitations in some situations does not apply to a statute of repose that bars bringing a tort suit more than 10 years after the last culpable act of the defendant. The property in the CTS case is located in North Carolina and had been an electronics plant from 1959 to 1985. Residents discovered solvent contamination 24 years after CTS Corporation sold the property. The residents sued CTS under CERCLA and, because CERCLA only provides recovery of investigation and cleanup costs, the plaintiffs also brought state law claims seeking monetary damages for lost property value and present and future medical costs. The district court dismissed the residents’ state law claims on the ground that CERCLA’s preemption of state statutes of limitations did not apply to a statute of repose and, because the claims arose more than 10 years before filing, they should be barred without regard to whether the plaintiffs knew or should have known about the contamination before then. The Fourth Circuit reversed the decision, but the U.S. Supreme Court overruled that reversal.

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