CERCLA Section 309 and Beyond

Statutes of Limitations, Rules of Repose, and the Broad Implications of CTS Corp v. Waldburger Outside the Context of Environmental Law

On June 9, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court, in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, held 7-2 that CERCLA Section 309 preempts only state statutes of limitations, not rules of repose. Previously, there was a split among federal courts of appeals as to whether CERCLA Section 309, a liberal discovery rule applying to certain toxic tort claims, preempted state statutes of repose. The Fifth Circuit had held that section 309 did not preempt state statutes of repose because the provision’s plain language, including the repeated use of “statute of limitations,” precluded a contrary interpretation. The Ninth and Fourth Circuits, however, held that CERCLA Section 309 preempted state statutes of repose in light of the Act’s legislative history and the ambiguity of the term “statute of limitations” at the time of CERCLA’s enactment. Federal courts have used these CERCLA Section 309 cases, as well as CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, to resolve the same question of statutory interpretation found in statutes relating to securities law, including the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 and the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. This Note analyzes the circuit split regarding the proper interpretation of CERCLA Section 309, as well as the potentially far-reaching impact of CTS Corp. v. Waldburger outside of the environmental context. It begins by examining the legislative history of CERCLA Section 309 and the distinction between and meaning of “statutes of repose” and “statutes of limitations.” Next, this Note analyzes judicial interpretation of CERCLA Section 309, from the early cases to CTS Corp. v. Waldburger. It then evaluates the judicial use of the CERCLA Section 309 cases to resolve the same question of statutory construction presented in statutes relating to securities law and the recent housing crisis. This Note acknowledges that in considering whether the term “statute of limitations” encompasses rules of repose in various securities law extender provisions, the courts must consider the Supreme Court’s analytical approach to CERCLA Section 309 in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger. Nevertheless, this Note urges that courts should still conduct their own independent, rigorous analysis of the provision at issue. Such an approach will ensure the proper interpretation of unique extender provisions enacted by Congress at different times throughout history.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.