A federal judge in California has ruled that Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. U.S., 129 S. Ct. 1870 (2009), did not change existing law regarding joint and several liability under CERCLA. U.S. v. Iron Mountain Mines Inc., No. 91-768 (E.D. Cal. 05/06/10). Arguing that Burlington Northern changed existing case law by requiring courts to consider apportioning CERCLA liability in cases involving multiple potentially responsible parties, defendant asked the court to reconsider a 2002 summary judgment ruling imposing joint and several liability on defendant at the Iron Mines CERCLA Site near Redding, California. In that decision, the court ruled that the Iron Mountain Mines and its president were jointly and severally liable for the cleanup as the site’s current operator and owner. EPA alleges that the cleanup has cost $57 million.
Rejecting defendant’s arguments, the court determined that the case simply reiterated established law, stating “Burlington Northern does not constitute a change in law as required for reconsideration.” In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court cited as the “seminal opinion on the subject,” U.S. v. Chem-Dyne Corp., 572 F. Supp. 802 (S.D. Ohio 1983), which held that “…, once a responsible party has been held to be liable to the United States under CERCLA, that party’s liability is joint and several unless the defendant carries its burden of demonstrating that there are distinct harms, or that there is a reasonable basis for determining the contribution of each [party] to a single harm.”