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United States v. Coeur D'Alenes Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

September 16, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE COEUR D'ALENES COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee FEDERAL RESOURCES CORPORATION, Intervenor-Appellant,

Argued and Submitted, Seattle, Washington July 10, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Idaho. D.C. No. 2:11-cv-00633-EJL. Edward J. Lodge, District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[**]

CERCLA

The panel affirmed the district court's order granting the United States' motion to enter a consent decree concerning payment of the costs of hazardous waste clean-up efforts at the Conjecture Mine Site in Bonner County, Idaho.

The consent decree was made pursuant to the terms of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (" CERCLA" ), which authorizes the United States to settle with a potentially responsible party for an amount less than that potentially responsible party's proportionate share of the cost to clean up a polluted site if it has a limited ability to pay. The Coeur d'Alenes Company entered into such a settlement with the government, and the district court approved it over the objections of intervenor Federal Resources Corporation. The district court concluded that the consent decree was procedurally and substantively fair, reasonable, and consistent with CERCLA.

The panel held that the intervenor failed to establish that the district court abused its discretion by forgoing a comparative fault analysis that it deemed irrelevant to the specific, permissible factors underlying the terms of the consent decree. The panel further held that the district court's conclusion - that the record showed that the United States appropriately considered the financial health of the Coeur d'Alene Company when concluding that the proposed settlement represented the maximum amount of money it could contribute to the cleanup costs - was well supported.

Katherine Lynn Felton (argued), and James P. Murphy, Murphy Armstrong, & Felton, Seattle, Washington; Stanley J. Tharp, Eberle, Berlin, Kading, Turnbow & McKlveen, Chartered, Boise, Idaho, for Intervenor-Appellant.

Peter Krzywicki (argued) and Paul Gormley, United States Department of Justice, Environmental and Natural Resources Division, Washington, D.C., for Plaintiff-Appellee.

W. Christopher Pooser (argued), and Kevin J. Beaton, Stoel Rives, Boise, Idaho, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: A. Wallace Tashima and Mary H. Murguia, Circuit Judges, and Cormac J. Carney, District Judge.[*] Opinion by Judge Murguia.

OPINION

Page 874

MURGUIA, Circuit Judge:

This case concerns the district court's obligations in reviewing a settlement made pursuant to the provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (" CERCLA" ), 42 U.S.C. § § 9601-75, that authorize the United States to settle with a potentially responsible party (" PRP" ) for an amount less than that PRP's proportionate share of the cost to clean up a polluted site if it has a limited ability to pay. See 42 U.S.C. § § 9622(e)(3)(A), (f)(6)(B). The Coeur d'Alenes Company (" CDA" ) entered into such a settlement with the government, and the district court approved it over the objections of intervenor Federal Resources Corporation (" FRC" ) that the district court was required to conduct a comparative fault analysis and to scrutinize more closely the government's assessment of CDA's ability to pay. We affirm.

I

In 2011, the United States filed lawsuits against FRC and CDA, among other PRPs, in the District of Idaho to recover the cost of hazardous waste clean-up efforts at the Conjecture Mine Site in Bonner County, Idaho (the " Site" ). The government proceeded against both parties under CERCLA, which " imposes strict liability on certain classes of parties who are potentially responsible for a site's contamination." Arizona v. City of Tucson, No. 12-15691, 761 F.3d 1005, 2014 WL 3765569, at *3 (9th Cir. Aug. 1, 2014) (citing Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. United States, 556 U.S. 599, 615, 129 S.Ct. 1870, 173 L.Ed.2d 812 (2009);

Page 875

Anderson Bros. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 729 F.3d 923, 929 (9th Cir. 2013)). " CERCLA liability is generally joint and several," although a party held liable under CERCLA may usually seek contribution from other PRPs held liable for the cost to ...


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