Search Site
Menu
NJ Appellate Division Rules Spill Act Subject to 6-Year Statute of Limitations

In a decision that may upset decades of environmental remediation litigation in New Jersey, the Appellate Division held recently that the catch-all six-year statute of limitations for damages to property found in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1 applies to contribution claims under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act (“Spill Act”).

In Morristown Assocs. v. Grant Oil Co., ___ N.J. ____ (App. Div. 2013), the owner of a shopping center brought a claim under the Spill Act against several oil companies and the owners of a dry cleaner in the shopping center for contamination resulting from an underground storage tank that allegedly leaked oil into the soil and groundwater. The Court, applying the discovery rule, held that the claim was time barred because it was brought outside the six year period imposed by N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1, which began running in 1999 when an agent of the owner should have realized that contamination may have existed.

In reaching its decision, the Court cited two cases that had previously addressed similar issues. In Pitney Bowes v. Baker Industries, Inc., 277 N.J. Super 484 (App. Div. 1994), the court held that the statute of repose protecting those who make improvements to real property did not apply to the Spill Act, reasoning that the language of the Spill Act strictly limited defenses to those enumerated in the Act. Then, in a later unpublished decision, the Court applied the reasoning of Pitney Bowes and found that the catch-all statute of limitations similarly had no application to the Spill Act. However, rather than adhering to reasoning expressed in the earlier decisions, the Court in Morristown Assocs. looked to federal courts’ interpretation of the Spill Act and compared the Act to its federal counterpart, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA” or “Superfund”), which contains a six-year limit to recover costs for “remedial action.” See 42 U.S.C. § 9613(g)(2)(B). The Court also noted that the general statutes of limitation have been applied to the many other statutes that do not contain internal limitations periods.

Finally, the Court justified its position by reasoning that enforcing the statute of limitations does not prevent a diligent plaintiff from recovering contribution for Spill Act damages. Rather, it simply forces a prospective Spill Act plaintiff to act in a timely manner. Nevertheless, the decision could have wide-reaching impacts in the context of hazardous site remediation, brownfield redevelopment, transactional matters, and pending environmental litigation. Apart from the obvious issue of factual disputes as to when contamination was or should have been discovered, the entire breadth of the remediation industry, including environmental service providers, engineers, attorneys, consultants, and government agencies have relied on the lack of a time limitation in bringing a contribution claim since the inception of the Spill Act. Strict application of the discovery rule could prevent deserving plaintiffs from bringing meritorious claims based on judicial determinations of when the individual “should have known” a site was contaminated.

The attorneys at Lieberman Blecher & Sinkevich P.C., who regularly assist clients with environmental issues that arise in the context of site remediation and claims under the Spill Act, will be closely following the developments in this area. Our attorneys are highly experienced in areas of land use, real estate, redevelopment and regulatory permitting, compliance, and enforcement. We have assisted many property owners, both plaintiffs and defendants, in contribution actions under the Spill Act and our attorneys are poised to address the impact of this recent decision in present and future cases.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our Attorneys

Recent Twitter Posts

  • The Murphy Administration plans to spend $200 million on wind port. https://t.co/Se09U5ZHvy
    3 hours ago
  • NJDEP aims to simplify permitting process. https://t.co/UTm92DtrAC
    1 day ago
  • U.S. Supreme Court will hear PennEast Pipeline appeal of New Jersey eminent domain dispute. https://t.co/AqqvTw1QD2
    4 weeks ago
  • Fishing to be allowed in future wind farm off the coast of Atlantic City. https://t.co/x8vlsXFtcW
    1 month ago

Recent Blog Posts

Recent Appellate decision emphasizes the consequences of failing to perform due diligence

In December 2020, the NJ Appellate Division published a decision emphasizing the importance for purchasers of property use their “due diligence” period to learn as much as possible about the
Read More
Recent Appellate decision emphasizes the consequences of failing to perform due diligence

New Jersey has ambitious goals for emission reductions

New Jersey’s Global Warming Response Act (“GWRA”) calls for New Jersey to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from their 2006 levels by 2050. In January 2020, Governor Murphy
Read More
New Jersey has ambitious goals for emission reductions

San Diego Receives Federal Funding to Fight Mexican Sewage

San Diego has just received substantial federal funding from the EPA to address a chronic problem: raw sewage coming from Tijuana Mexico. That sewage has been migrating over the border
Read More
San Diego Receives Federal Funding to Fight Mexican Sewage

New Jersey Supreme Court rules for NJ Transit in insurance claim for damages due to Superstorm Sandy

A New Jersey Supreme Court opinion issued on January 27, 2021 affirmed an Appellate Division decision in favor of NJ Transit over its insurers. In 2012, when Superstorm Sandy hit
Read More
New Jersey Supreme Court rules for NJ Transit in insurance claim for damages due to Superstorm Sandy

In the media

  • Gulf Coast Town Center facing foreclosure

    Naples Daily News, September 16, 2015

    Wells Fargo filed a lawsuit Sept. 8 against an affiliate of CBL & Associates, the owners of the decadeold, 1.2 million-square-foot mall in south Fort Myers for a $190.9 million unpaid loan. The center has 94 stores on 204 acres, with such anchors as Super Target, Belk, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshalls and Costco...

    Read More
  • Town liable for private company's leaking underground tanks, court rules

    NJ.com Jul 26, 2017

    CRANFORD -- A couple that owned a businesses in town and became sick from leaking underground tanks owned by an adjacent business can sue the township for damages because the tanks were partially ...

    Read More
  • Dark Waters: How a Class Action Catapulted NJ to Forefront of 'Forever Chemicals' Battle

    NJ Law Journal Jan 09, 2020

    As property owners become increasingly aware of PFAS contamination, and as individuals exposed to PFAS learn of the health risks associated with exposure, liability will likely affect entire supply chains.

    Read More
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
Contact Our Firm

Quick Contact Form