Since A Trust Betrayed went to press, there has been a major development in litigation filed in the federal courts by victims of the Camp Lejeune pollution.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in January that it will hear arguments in April in a case that could have a huge impact on the ability of Lejeune victims to seek compensation from the government through the courts.
The case, Waldburger v. CTS Corp., is not directly related to the contamination at the base, but it might as well be. It involves one of the same toxic chemicals that affected residents of Camp Lejeune, TCE, and it has to do with pollution that occurred decades ago in North Carolina.
The lawsuit against CTS Corp. was filed by property owners whose groundwater was contaminated by TCE in the 1980s. But their arguments demanding a cleanup ran head-on into a state law called the “statute of repose” that says a polluter cannot be held liable for environmental violations after more than 10 years. A federal district judge hearing the case ruled that the state law meant the company could not be sued for damages in the 2010s.
The plaintiffs argued that when Congress passed the federal law that created the Superfund program for cleaning up hazardous waste sites, it did not intend for state statutes of limitations to prevent polluters from being held responsible. A federal appeals court agreed, saying the intent of the Superfund law is to make polluters pay for toxic waste regardless of when the dumping occurred.
The Supreme Court will hear the competing arguments in April and is expected to issue a ruling early this summer.
Here’s why the case is connected to Camp Lejeune: The U.S. Department of Justice has sided with CTS in arguing that the North Carolina statute of repose does take precedence over the Superfund law. The government’s aim is not so much to help CTS, but to block all future claims by Camp Lejeune victims because the pollution that may have caused their illnesses occurred more than 10 years ago.
Here’s how the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly described the situation: “The federal government is defending itself against lawsuits by hundreds of former residents of the base and argues that their claims are barred by the same North Carolina statute at issue in the CTS case. Although the Camp Lejeune litigation was consolidated in the 11th Circuit, the federal government appeared in the 4th Circuit case to argue alongside CTS.”
USA Today also published an excellent story on March 1 summarizing what’s at stake for Camp Lejeune victims in the CTS case.