Morristown Associates v. Grant Oil Co.
January 28, 2015
Morristown Associates v. Grant Oil Co. (A-38-13) (073248)
Argued October 6, 2014 -- Decided January 26, 2015
The Supreme Court of New Jersey, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the Spill Compensation and Control Act (Spill Act), does not have a statute of limitations governing contribution actions. Parties liable for the costs of remediation under the Spill Act have a statutory right to pursue other parties that are in any way responsible for the contamination to recover some costs. Previously the Appellate Division narrowed the scope of a contribution action by deciding that the 6-year general statute of limitations for injury to real property limited the time in which a person could file a contribution action against others that may be responsible for the contamination.
In overruling the decision of the Appellate Division, the Supreme Court held that the general statute of limitations for injury to real property, found in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1, was not applicable to contribution claims under the Spill Act.
The Supreme Court found support for its decision in the wording and express limitations of the Spill Act’s contribution and defense provisions that, as interpreted by the Court, permit a defendant in a contribution action to raise only those defenses to liability explicitly enumerated in a different section of the Spill Act, specifically: “an act or omission caused solely by war, sabotage, or God, or a combination thereof.” The Court reasoned that because the legislature specifically limited the defenses available in a contribution action, the general limitations period for injury to real property was not applicable.
This decision has the effect of allowing parties that are remediating contamination at sites throughout New Jersey to pursue other parties that are in any way responsible for the discharge regardless of when the contamination occurred or was discovered. Importantly, persons responsible for remediating contaminated sites will not be forced into early litigation and can bring an action to recover their costs at the appropriate time. This decision also has significant implications for defendants that find themselves subject of a State enforcement action or private litigation since they can now file contribution claims against other parties that may not have been pursued by the State or initially pursued by the plaintiff.