The United States Supreme Court today handed down a landmark decision on the federal Superfund law (United States v. Atlantic Research Corp.). Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Thomas found that Section 113(f) of the Superfund law (technically, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 9601 et seq.), known as the "contribution" provision of the law, is not the only vehicle by which a private party can seek compensation from another party alleged to be a polluter.
The Court held that another Section of the law (Section 107(a)(4)(b)) allows for such suit even if the party suing has not itself been sued by anyone or has not settled its liability with the Government (which is a restriction imposed by 113(f)). Thus, a private party that voluntarily is cleaning up a site has a right of action despite the fact that no one is pursuing that party to force the clean up.
Prior to Atlantic Richfield, it was uncertain whether or not such a volunteer had such a right. The Supreme Court's decision thus clears the way for clean-up volunteers to press litigation in the federal courts.
The text of the Atlantic Research decision can be found here.