Six-Year Statute Of Limitations Applies To Spill Act Contribution Claims

In a stunning decision, the New Jersey Appellate Division held on August 23 that the State’s general six-year statute of limitations for property damage applies to private claims for contribution under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act.  Morristown Associates v. Grant Oil Co., (App. Div., No. A-0313-11T3, August 23, 2013).   The six-year clock begins to run when “the injured party discovers, or… should have discovered that he may have a basis for an actionable claim.”  Morristown, slip op. at 3 (quoting Lopez v. Swyer, 62 N.J. 267 (1973)).

The statute of limitations applicable to Spill Act claims has long been a subject of controversy.  The Act itself does not specify a limitations period.  In 1994, the Appellate Division held that a ten-year statute of repose did not apply to Spill Act contribution claims.  Pitney Bowes v. Baker Industries, Inc., 277 N.J. Super 484 (App. Div. 1994).  There, the court reasoned that the Spill Act “casts a broad net” and that the purposes of the Act would be defeated if responsible parties were excluded from liability because of a statute of repose.

Five years later, the Appellate Division held that no statute of limitations applied to private claims for contribution under the Spill Act.  Mason v. Mobil Oil Corp., 1999 WL 33605936 (N.J.Super.A.D.).  However, the decision was unpublished and therefore was not binding on other courts or litigants.

More recently, a federal court interpreting New Jersey law reached the opposite conclusion, holding that the six-year statute of limitations applied to Spill Act claims.  Reichhold, Inc. v. United States Metals Refining Co., 655 F. Supp.2d 400 (D.N.J. 2009).

The appellate court in Morristown rejected or distinguished its own earlier decisions, and sided with the 2009 federal court decision.

Still, uncertainty remains.  While the Appellate Division has now spoken in Morristown, the State Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on the issue, and the State Legislature, too, could seize the opportunity to amend the Spill Act if it disagrees with the holding in the Morristown case.

As the law continues to evolve on these matters, please note that this article is current as of date and time of publication and may not reflect subsequent developments. The content and interpretation of the issues addressed herein is subject to change. Cole Schotz P.C. disclaims any and all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this publication to the fullest extent permitted by law. This is for general informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Do not act or refrain from acting upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining legal, financial and tax advice. For further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to your firm contact or to any of the attorneys listed in this publication.

Join Our Mailing List

Stay up to date with the latest insights, events, and more
Check all areas of law you are interested in receiving e-newsletters and alerts about:(Required)
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Our Practices

EACH REPRESENTATION IS A FRESH CANVAS

Practices

Our Industries

EXPERIENCE THAT GOES WHERE OUR CLIENTS GO

Industries