U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Expansive Interpretation of CERCLA Extender Provision: Supreme Court Holds that CERCLA’s Extender Provision Applies Only to State Statutes of Limitations and Not State Statutes of Repose

Sullivan & Cromwell LLP - June 10, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday rejected an expansive interpretation of the federal extender provision in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) that would have applied the provision to both state statutes of limitations and state statutes of repose in hazardous waste cases.  In CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, No. 13-339 (June 9, 2014), the Court reversed the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and held that CERCLA’s extender provision—which extends the time for filing certain state-law causes of action related to hazardous waste—applies only to state statutes of limitations, not to state statutes of repose.  In reaching that result, the Court’s reading of the language of the CERCLA extender provision will likely influence the interpretation of similar provisions in other statutes, such as the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) and the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA).  The important distinctions noted by the Court between statutes of limitations and statutes of repose, including that statutes of repose are “fixed” and that their “expiration will not be delayed by estoppel or tolling,” also could impact several pending cases in which plaintiffs have sought to apply tolling principles to federal and state statutes of repose.