Future Response Costs Held In Trust May Not Be Recoverable in CERCLA Contribution Action
On September 14, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that speculative, potential future response costs are not recoverable in a contribution action under CERCLA, even if the party seeking contribution has already made an expenditure for such costs pursuant to a settlement. The response costs at issue in ASARCO LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Co, No. 18-35934, D.C. No. 6:12-cv-00053-DLC (9th Cir. Sept. 14, 2020) were part of a cash-out bankruptcy settlement that resolved plaintiff ASARCO LLC’s liability for several contaminated sites. Only a portion of the settlement funds paid by ASARCO had been spent on remediating the site in question, with the rest held in trust to address future potential response costs. Although the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s allocation of 25 percent of the cleanup responsibility to the defendant, Atlantic Richfield, it vacated and remanded the district court’s decision with respect to the future costs.