PARCHMENT, Mich. (WOOD) — An argument over the cleanup on the Kalamazoo River Superfund site could end up before the highest court in the land.
It directly deals with who should pay for the remediation of PCBs at the site. The U.S. Supreme Court could decide whether to grant an appeal from paper company Georgia-Pacific’s attorneys regarding contribution or reimbursement for damages to the Superfund site in the Kalamazoo area.
In April 2022, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the company after its attorneys argued they were essentially paying too much for their portion of the damages.
“When it comes to liability… a party who has paid more than its fair share has generally the right to contribution,” Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School Professor Mark Dotson said. “They have the right to recover from those who have not paid, who they have already covered for.”
In this case, Georgia-Pacific is responsible for 40% of the damages, while International Paper is paying 15%. Georgia-Pacific wants International Paper to pay more. The 6th Circuit ruled against Georgia-Pacific, citing a three-year statute of limitations for Superfund sites, Dotson explained.
“You (Georgia-Pacific), back in 1998, subsequently were informed that you were liable. You didn’t know how much you were liable for and you didn’t who necessarily you should’ve been suing to seek contribution from, but you knew that your liability was fixed,” Dotson explained. “So the clock started running as soon as your liability was fixed, even though you didn’t have the amounts at the time.”
In their appeal to the Supreme Court, attorneys for Georgia-Pacific questioned how they can seek reimbursement for something when they don’t know how much it’s going to be. They argue that the ruling contradicts a 2004 decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in a case filed by the now-defunct American Cyanamid Company.
“Left uncorrected, the 6th Circuit’s atextual rule will impose arbitrary and draconian burdens on those who undertake environmental cleanups; incentivize a barrage of premature protective suits; and ultimately produce less accurate allocations of responsibility,” attorneys stated.
Dotson said the proceedings could change how long it will take for the site to be cleaned up.
“Initially right now, Georgia-Pacific is on the hook for costs going forward. As long as they got money, then the remediation will continue to progress,” Dotson said. “If Georgia-Pacific runs out of money, then we’re going to have to halt some of that remediation and there may be environmental consequences.”
There is no word yet on whether the Supreme Court will hear the case.