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NJ Supreme Court Rules That No Statute of Limitations Applies to Private Claims for Contribution under the Spill Act

January 2015

On Monday, January 26, 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its much-awaited decision in Morristown Associates v. Grant Oil Co. deciding that there is no statute of limitations applicable to private contribution claims under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11 et seq. (the “Spill Act”). The Court completely overturned an Appellate Division decision.

The decision is consistent with earlier State court rulings. Prior to the Appellate Division’s decision, only New Jersey Federal District Courts had applied a six-year statute of limitations period on Spill Act Contribution claims. State courts have addressed the applicability of a limitations period but held that no limit applies.

The Supreme Court focused on the plain language of the Spill Act and the fact that the Act limits the defenses in private contribution actions to “an act or omission caused solely by war, sabotage, or God, or a combination thereof.” The court highlighted the absence of a statute of limitations defense amongst this short list and held that the legislature would have included one had it intended for one to be applicable. Hence, the court, in its own words, chose to “not unsettle a decades-long understanding in this State that no limitations period restricts contribution claims against responsible parties.”

Although there is no longer a potential time bar to contribution claims, parties still need to be mindful of other timing issues. Cleanup timeframes imposed by law must be met and, with the passage of time, recovery from other responsible parties may become unviable.

In addition, prospective purchasers and future tenants should still conduct their due diligence appropriately to remain eligible for innocent purchaser status.

For more information, please contact your Wolff & Samson PC attorney or the authors listed below.

Dennis M. Toft | Co-Chair, Environmental Group | | (973) 530-2014

C. Nicole Sullivan | Associate, Environmental Group | | (973) 530-2059

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