Supreme Court Decision Is a Boon for Polluters, Critics Say
Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger addresses a rally in Washington, D.C., on April 23, 2014.
The rally protested the Department of Justice’s support for the electronics manufacturer CTS Corporation.
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
“Ludicrous…Unconscionable…A slap in the face.”
The 7-2 vote in the case of CTS Corp. v. Waldburger blocks a group of landowners in Asheville, North Carolina from pursuing compensation for property and health damage allegedly caused by toxic chemicals released from a former CTS electronics plant.
Indirectly, critics warn, the decision may also eliminate recourse for veterans sickened by historically contaminated water at a North Carolina Marine Corps base, and may motivate corporations to cover up current and future pollution events long enough to escape liability. The decision, critics say, will trigger profound and unjust environmental health consequences across the U.S.
“It’s very devastating to me,” said Dot Rice, 76, of Asheville, who lives about a thousand feet from the CTS site. “The contamination has gotten much worse. There are more people getting sick and now there can be nothing done about it.”
CTS shut down its Asheville plant and sold the property in 1987. Despite evidence of continuing chemical exposures in the community’s air and water, a North Carolina statute cuts off a company’s liability 10 years after its last contaminating act. In other words, according to the law’s language, the deadline for filing claims came and went in 1997 — years before Asheville residents were informed of the contamination, and well before many got sick. (The residents’ illnesses can’t be definitively linked to contamination from the plant.)
A federal law, however, sets a different clock, which starts ticking when a victim first learns of the contamination that likely caused his or her injury. As The Huffington Post reported in April, the Supreme Court was tasked with interpreting obscure legal terminology to determine which of the two clocks should set the deadline for a victim to legally file a claim.