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Supreme Court Affirms Applicability of Six-Year Statute of Limitations to State Claims Regarding Groundwater

In State v. Atlantic Richfield Company et al., 2016 VT 61 (May 27, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s dismissal of the state’s claims, finding that the six-year statute of limitations is applicable to the generalized injury to state waters.

Issue: The state sued defendants in 2014, alleging: public nuisance; private nuisance; trespass; negligence; strict liability for design defect, defective product, and failure to warn; as well as civil conspiracy. The Vermont legislature banned methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), the chemical at issue, in 2005, so defendants moved to dismiss the claim based on the six-year statute of limitations. On appeal, the state argued that its claim was exempt from the statute of limitations under 12 V.S.A. §462, and that 10 V.S.A. §1390 created a new cause of action, under which the state’s claim would not be barred by the statute of limitations.

Holding: The Court affirmed the dismissal based on the six-year statute of limitations, finding that §462 only applies to “adverse-possession claims with respect to interests in state property, or property dedicated to a public, pious, or charitable use,” making the exemption inapplicable to this case, which was not about adverse possession. With regard to §1390, the Court found that even if it did create a retroactively enforceable cause of action, it still wouldn’t allow the state to apply it to injuries discovered more than six years before it filed its complaint.

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