Historically, the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act (Spill Act) has been the bread and butter of most environmental litigation in New Jersey's state courts. The Spill Act was the first act of its kind and was the model for the subsequent federal Superfund statute, more accurately referred to as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability ACT of 1980 or CERCLA. The Spill Act has always been the primary vehicle by which private parties seek to recover money from other parties in "contribution" to pay for environmental cleanups. The New Jersey Supreme Court's decision two years ago in Morristown Associates v. Grant Oil Company that contribution claims under the Spill Act have no statute of limitations further solidified the Spill Act as the primary claim in environmental cases to address contaminated property brought in New Jersey's state courts.
The New Jersey Environmental Rights Act (ERA) has traditionally been an afterthought with real application in only a narrow set of circumstances. On April 26, 2016, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard argument in Dalton v. Shanna Lynn Corp., on the following question: "If the [NJDEP] fails to take action, does a plaintiff who has not expended investigative or remedial costs have standing under the [ERA] to enforce the provisions of the Spill Act?" A ruling on this question by the New Jersey Supreme Court in the affirmative could lead to the increased use of the ERA, which includes provisions permitting the recovery of attorneys' fees and injunctive relief in appropriate circumstances. A ruling in Dalton is one to watch for in 2017.