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CERCLA Actions and Statute of Limitations: Navigating the Circuit Split and Lessons From Guam v. United States

Recording of a 90-minute CLE video webinar with Q&A

This program is included with the Strafford CLE Pass. Click for more information.
This program is included with the Strafford All-Access Pass. Click for more information.

Conducted on Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Recorded event now available

or call 1-800-926-7926

This CLE course will guide counsel on applying the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) statute of limitations and explain when settlements trigger the statute. The panel will examine recent decisions, analyze a federal circuit split, and offer best practices for managing timing issues in Superfund and environmental litigation.


CERCLA continues to evolve as court interpretations vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Plaintiffs and defendants must navigate a growing and conflicting body of law regarding the statute of limitations.

Previously a circuit split has led to disparate determinations of whether a judicially approved settlement of environmental liabilities triggers the statute of limitations on a CERCLA contribution claim. The Ninth Circuit added to the growing body of case law in Asarco v. Atlantic Richfield (9th Cir. 2017), concluding a non-CERCLA settlement agreement can meet the resolving liability requirement for a CERCLA Section 113 contribution claim. Still, the language of the 1998 RCRA consent decree that required Asarco to undertake response actions was not sufficient to resolve its liability. In 2016, the court also discussed the statute of limitations issue in Whittaker Corp. v. United States (9th Cir. 2016).

Recent cases have addressed the issues of whether a party has asserted a cost-recovery claim under CERCLA Section 107(a) or a contribution claim under Section 113(f). Because the two causes of action contain different limitations periods, the application of CERCLA's statute of limitations depends on which of these mutually exclusive remedies is sought. The second is when the statute of limitations accrues or starts to run; a seemingly simple question spawns a host of complex litigation.

The Supreme Court answered some of the questions in Guam v. United States, but many of these issues continue to present difficulties for parties involved in the cleanup of "legacy hazardous waste sites." Many federal circuit courts have not addressed when settlements trigger the statute of limitations for CERCLA actions. Environmental counsel must prepare to face statute of limitations challenges.

Listen as our authoritative panel of environmental attorneys examines the circuit split on the issue of the statute of limitations for CERCLA actions. The panel will also offer best practices for addressing the issue and avoiding statute of limitations problems.



  1. CERCLA actions and statute of limitations
    1. Contribution
    2. Cost recovery
    3. Ramifications of Guam v. United States
  2. Circuit split on the statute of limitations and its implications
  3. Best practices for addressing and avoiding statute of limitations issues


The panel will review these and other key issues:

  • How are the federal courts addressing when a settlement triggers the statute of limitations?
  • What should counsel consider in deciding when to file a contribution claim?
  • What are best practices for counsel to reduce CERCLA liability early in the litigation?


Murphy, Michael
Michael K. Murphy

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher

Mr. Murphy handles a wide variety of cases under most federal and a number of state environmental statutes, and has...  |  Read More

Smith, Christopher
Christopher (Smitty) Smith

Wolf Wallenstein

Mr. Smith practices regulatory compliance and litigation as it relates to environmental matters. He concentrates on...  |  Read More

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