District Court holds the Statute of Limitations for NRD claims under CERCLA is triggered by constructive knowledge of injury by Trustee.
SteveK July 17th, 2010
On July 13, 2010, in Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources v. Century Alumina, LLC, et.al., the Federal District Court from the St. Croix division of the Virgin Islands, held that an action to recover natural resource damages (NRD) must be commenced within 3 years of the constructive knowledge of the injury by the trustee.
The plaintiff trustee brought the claim against a number of industrial entities for the release of contaminants onto a number of industrial tracts at various times which injured the land as well as groundwater and the Caribbean Sea. The defendants moved for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the claims under CERCLA’s limitation of actions provision, which provides that an action for NRD must be commenced within 3 years following “the date of the discovery of the loss and its connection with the release in question.” Although the statute does not state what is meant by “discovery” the court relied upon numerous prior decisions as to other statutes and other aspects of CERCLA to conclude that it is based upon the constructive knowledge of the trustee. The court went on to clarify that the knowledge of the agency, including the knowledge of any prior trustee, would be imputed to the present trustee. Accordingly, the determination of whether there was NRD related to the discharges would require an analysis of when the trustee knew or should have known that there was an injury to the natural resource related to the discharges, which would commence the running of the time for bringing an action. With this ruling in hand, the court analyzed the facts as to each site and each defendant, dismissing some claims and allowing others to continue.
This case demonstrates that there courts will take a rational approach in considering the relationship between knowledge of a discharge of contaminants and the commencement of NRD claims. The interests of the government to pursue recovery of NRD, while important, will not allow the government to be inattentive to their statutory obligation to act promptly to seek to enforce these rights.
DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis & Lehrer, PC ( www.dbnjlaw.com ) is a full service law firm in New Jersey which provides a broad range of legal services, including the representation of clients in environmental and defense of toxic exposure matters. For additional information about the matters in this bulletin or in the firm’s environmental practice, please contactSteven A. Kunzman, Esq. who heads our Environmental and Latent Injury Litigation Department.