Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Aviall Services, Inc.
543 U.S. 157 (2004)

  • Aviall bought some property in Texas from Cooper. The property was contaminated with jet fuel and required cleanup.
  • Availl understood that as owners, they were liable under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Recovery Act (CERCLA) to pay for the remediation of the site. They voluntarily began cleanup without being sued by EPA or Texas.
    • Availl did notify the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission which informed Availl that they were in violation of environmental laws and might be sued if they did not undertake remediation.
  • Aviall sued to force Cooper to pay some of the clean up costs.
    • Aviall argued that Cooper was liable under CERCLA 113(f).
      • 113(f) says that one potentially responsible party (PRP) can sue other PRPs in order to allocate final costs responsibility on an equitable basis.
    • Cooper admitted to being a PRP, but claimed it was not liable because Aviall was never sued to clean up the land and had no federal requirement to do so.
  • The Trial Court found for Cooper. Availl appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that you couldn't recover under 113(f) unless you have been sued under CERCLA.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed, but decided to hear the case en banc.
  • The Appellate Court en banc reversed. Cooper appealed.
    • The Appellate Court looked to the savings clause of 113(f) and found CERCLA does not require a PRP to first be sued before seeking clean up funds from other PRPs.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found for Cooper.
    • The US Supreme Court found that a private party, who, like Aviall, had not been sued under CERCLA could not obtain cleanup contributions from other liable parties.
    • The Court found that CERCLA's language made clear that parties could seek cleanup contribution only during or following a civil action.
      • Specifically, 113(f)(1) says that a party may obtain contribution "during or following any civil action."
        • Availl unsuccessfully argued that may did not mean may only.
  • In a dissent, it was suggested that Availl might be able to recover under 107(a)(4)(B), but since they did not bring this issue up at trial, the Court couldn't consider it.
    • 107(a)(4)(B) says that PRPs "shall be liable for any necessary costs or response incurred by any other person consistent with the National Contingency Plan."
    • In the past, courts had been reluctant to allow PRPs to sue under 107(a)(4)(B), saying that 113(f) is more appropriate.
      • 107(a)(4)(B) is for cost recovery, while 113(f) is for cost contribution.
    • The US Supreme Court indeed found that PRPs can sue under 107(a)(4)(B) in United States v. Atlantic Research Corporation (127 S. Ct. 2331 (2007))