In the 9th Circuit, Under CERCLA, the Cleanup Hitter or Liable Owner is the One on Deck When the Cleanup Occurs, Not When the Suit is Instituted

Believe it or not, in the 30 years of recorded decisions under CERCLA, the issue of who is an “owner” has not been decided, according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California v. Hearthside Residential Corp., case number 09-55389 (Decided July 22, 2010). CERCLA Section 107(a)(1) imposes liability on the current “owner and operator of a . . . facility.” 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a)(1). In the Hearthside case, Hearthside Residential Corporation (“Hearthside”) sold the property in question before the State of California sued it for reimbursement of clean-up costs. The Ninth Circuit determined that ownership for the purposes of CERCLA liability must be determined at the time of cleanup.