United States v. Atlantic Research Corp.

ctions 107(a) and 113(f) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 allow private parties to recover expenses associated with cleaning up contaminated sites. Section 107(a) defines four categories of potentially responsible parties (PRPs) and makes them liable for, among other things, “(A) all costs of removal or remedial action incurred by the United States Government or a State or an Indian tribe not inconsistent with the national contingency plan” and “(B) any other necessary costs of response incurred by any other person consistent with [such] plan,” §§107(a)(4)(A)–(B). Originally, some courts interpreted §107(a)(4)(B) as providing a cause of action for a private party to recover voluntarily incurred response costs and to seek contribution after having been sued. However, after the enactment of §113(f), which authorizes one PRP to sue another for contribution, many courts held it to be the exclusive remedy for PRPs. In Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Aviall Services, Inc., 543 U. S. 157, 161, this Court held that a private party could seek contribution under §113(f) only after being sued under §106 or §107(a).

      After respondent Atlantic Research cleaned up a Government site it leased and contaminated while doing Government work, it sued the Government to recover some of its costs under, as relevant here, §107(a). The District Court dismissed the case, but the Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that §113(f) does not provide the exclusive remedy for recovering cleanup costs and that §107(a)(4)(B) provided a cause of action to any person other than those permitted to sue under §107(a)(4)(A).

Held: Because §107(a)(4)(B)’s plain terms allow a PRP to recover costs from other PRPs, the statute provides Atlantic Research with a cause of action. Pp. 4–11.