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Environmental: Generous Statute Of Limitations Applies To CERCLA-Type State Claims Only

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

A suit against mining companies for damages caused by filling an empty mine with water was dismissed as untimely because the plaintiffs couldn't show that a more generous federal statute of limitations preempted a less generous state statute of limitations.

Facts: In 1994, Consolidation Coal Company (Consolidation Coal) acquired the necessary government permit to pump excess water out of an operational mine and into an exhausted mine, a process called ''dewatering.'' Before Consolidation Coal began dewatering its mine, it published notices in several newspapers for three months. It also built a visible pipeline from one mine to the other, above ground. Consolidation Coal finished dewatering its mine in 2003. In 2005 and 2006, local newspapers published stories about the dewatering.

In 2011 and 2013, the owners of the land above the two mines involved (Buchanan Mine and Beatrice Mine) sued Consolidation Coal and others in federal court. They alleged state law claims of trespass, negligence, and nuisance, among others. The plaintiffs sought hundreds of millions of dollars in damages allegedly caused by Consolidation Coal pumping water out of Buchanan Mine and into Beatrice Mine.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants because the plaintiffs' claim was barred by Virginia's three- and five-year statutes of limitations, which begin to run on the date of injury. The trial court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that it should apply the more generous statute of limitations from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. §§9601-9675. The U.S[...]

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