On Monday of this week, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, which can be read here.
The essence of that opinion was that homeowners and others injured by toxic contamination more than ten years before they became aware of their exposure or injury were barred from pursuing their case against CTS. This was a result of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of federal law, specifically that the state’s “statute of repose,” G.S. 1-52(a)(16), was not preempted by federal law, even though the federal law did preempt the statute of limitations housed in that same statute.
A case similar to the CTS case has been filed by victims of exposure to toxins in water around the United States Marine Corps installment at Camp Lejeune. On the very day the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the CTS matter, Obama administration attorneys filed a motion to dismiss those cases for the same reason. See: WRAL’s article “Obama Lawyers Seek End to Lejeune Toxic Water Case”
Unless the NC General Assembly clarifies the law in this area, those individuals whose claims are impacted by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling may have their cases dismissed. That would leave them without a remedy against entities, including the United States, that might have committed acts or omissions that led to their injuries.
With the PCS to Senate Bill 574, the General Assembly seeks to clarify the intent of G.S. 1-52. Had it previously been clear to the General Assembly that G.S. 1-52 was not preempted by federal law, the General Assembly could have previously acted to make this clarification. In fact, a panel of Fourth Circuit judges concluded (in the case decided by the Supreme Court Monday), that the North Carolina statute was preempted by language in CERCLA. Now that the Fourth Circuit’s decision has been reversed, the General Assembly has chosen to step in and clarify the law. Plaintiffs in cases related to injuries arising from exposure in and around Arden and Camp Lejeune will still have to prove their claims and establish liability; this change merely gives them an opportunity to make their case on the merits.
Press release from Speaker of the House Thom Tillis:
The North Carolina House of Representatives is considering legislation that would clarify its intent that residents may pursue lawsuits in certain cases related to injuries arising from exposure to toxic contamination.
The new legislative action, a Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) to Senate Bill 574, was needed after the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion on Monday halting homeowners in the south Asheville area from pursuing a lawsuit against CTS Corporation. The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that federal law did not preempt state law, which currently limits contamination suits to 10 years.
The same day of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Obama Administration’s U.S. Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss a similar case involving a group of North Carolina homeowners over water contamination at Camp Lejeune. The lawsuit includes claims related to exposure to contaminated water at the U.S. Marine Corps base that potentially resulted in birth defects, childhood cancers and other illnesses.
“The legislature is going to do what we can to ensure that the citizens of North Carolina are able to pursue lawsuits against possible contamination – even when it’s the U.S. Government that’s being sued,” said Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg). “Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has clarified the law in this area, we will move swiftly to ensure that state law reflects the Legislature’s intent to protect the public health of our citizens.”
The General Assembly’s legislative action is needed at this time to clarify the intent of the law following Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision and will allow for plaintiffs in cases related to injuries arising from exposure in and around Asheville and Camp Lejeune – and other communities throughout the state – to pursue legal claims against possible contamination with no time constraints. Without this legislative action, citizens would be left without a remedy against entities, including the United States, currently acting to dismiss their claim, which might have committed acts or omissions that led to their injuries.
“We are confident that this updated law will allow local residents in cases related to injuries arising from the exposure around Asheville and Camp Lejeune will have the opportunity to make their case based on the merits,” said Reps. Rick Catlin (R-New Hanover), Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe), Chuck McGrady (R-Buncombe) and Nathan Ramsey (R-Buncombe). “This legislation is fair to our citizens and the North Carolina General Assembly will not join the ranks of those who have failed these citizens.”