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Environmental Alert: The United States Supreme Court Sets New Standards on CERCLA Liability

On May 4, 2009, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in the consolidated cases of Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. U.S. and Shell Oil Company v. U.S., 129 S.Ct. 1870 (2009), on the matters of arranger liability and joint and several liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund. The opinion addresses two issues: (1) whether a manufacturer is liable as an "arranger" when it sells a product that the purchaser then spills, causing environmental contamination; and (2) whether a single harm is indivisible or whether joint and several liability is appropriate or is capable of reasonable apportionment. Under the facts of the case, the Court decided both of these issues in favor of the potentially responsible defendants, a ruling that should benefit similarly situated defendants in future cases.