Supreme Court sides with state limits on contamination lawsuits

June 12, 2014

In 2009, a group of residents who lived near a former CTS Corp. electronics plant in Asheville, North Carolina, filed a lawsuit against the company. Their complaint focused on alarming levels of contamination in the area.

However, they ran into a problem. North Carolina has a law in the books that limits lawsuits to a 10-year time limit. And since CTS Corp. sold its Asheville plant in 1987 and ceased operation there after that date, soil and groundwater contamination had stopped long before the resident chose to file their suit.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state's law took precedence over any applicable federal laws. It is true that federal Superfund laws maintain that residents who are affected by contamination have the right to sue the responsible corporation whenever the problem is discovered. However, in writing the opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that Congress never intended this law to supersede those few states who have their own time limits on the books.

Only a few states have such limits. The Wall Street Journal reports that, in addition to North Carolina, Connecticut, Kansas and Oregon have similar laws. To some defendants, this ruling is seen as a way for corporate interests to get a free pass for contamination.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Industrial facilities have the opportunity to get out in front of potential scandals and prove to residents that they care about protecting the environment and avoiding contamination. The best way to do this is to work with an environmental consultant and develop a plan to grow with the smallest environmental impact possible.