Washington Federal Court Finds Nuisance Claims Displaced by CERCLA

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Expanding the reach of the federal displacement doctrine and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AEP v. Connecticut, a federal district court for the first time held that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) displaces the federal common law of nuisance in claims alleging damages caused by releases of hazardous substances. See Anderson v. Teck Metals, Ltd., No. CV-13-420 (E.D. Wash. Jan. 5, 2015). This ruling follows on a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court holding that regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act displaces federal nuisance claims arising from the effects of climate change. See AEP v. Connecticut, 131 S. Ct. 2527 (2011).

Plaintiffs in Anderson filed a putative class action in 2013, alleging among other claims, that Defendant’s smelter in British Columbia caused injuries in the Upper Columbia River Region of Washington. Defendant moved to dismiss all claims under Federal Rule 12(b)(6). 

After making an initial finding that Plaintiffs had standing to bring the federal nuisance claims, the court concluded that CERCLA displaced any claims that Plaintiffs may have. The court explained that a statute displaces federal common law when Congress has enacted legislation addressing the issue presented by a claim.

The particular issue in this case was “liability for the release and threatened release of hazardous substances.” Id. at 12. Even though Plaintiffs’ claims alleged personal injuries, which CERCLA does not address, the court followed the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., 696 F.3d 849 (9th Cir. 2012), which concluded that “the type of remedy asserted is not relevant to the applicability of the doctrine of displacement.” Id. (quoting Kivalina, 696 F.3d at 857). Accordingly, the court found the fact that CERCLA does not provide a damages remedy for personal injuries to be “irrelevant” to its displacement analysis and dismissed the federal common law claims. The court declined to dismiss some of Plaintiffs’ state law claims, including those seeking to impose strict liability.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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