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WASHINGTON--The federal Superfund law permits companies that voluntarily clean up contaminated sites to sue other potentially responsible parties, including the federal government, to recoup costs stemming from the cleanup, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday.
The case, United States vs. Atlantic Research Corp., began in 2002 when Gainesville, Va.-based Atlantic Research attempted to recover from the federal government some of the costs it had incurred during a voluntary cleanup of a Camden, Ark., facility at which it had retrofitted rocket motors for the government in the 1980s.
Federal appeals courts have split over the right to seek contributions for voluntary cleanups. For example, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals--which reviewed the Atlantic Research case--held that parties could seek contributions for voluntary cleanup, while the 3rd Circuit ruled that parties that voluntarily cleaned up sites had to be sued first.
Writing for the court, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas said the federal government's interpretation of CERCLA was incorrect, and that Atlantic Research had a cause of action under the law.