Asarco, LLC v Noranda Mining, Inc.

Asarco appealed summary judgment to Mining on its claim for contribution for environmental cleanup expenses under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. The panel reversed and remanded. It held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on judicial estoppel grounds because CERCLA settlements in bankruptcy are encouraged and allowing the settling parties to pay more than their proportionate share to avoid mini-trials on the issue advances the policies in CERCLA, the amount of the settlement in Asarco’s bankruptcy included all potential liability for all responsible parties and thus the claim for contribution did not create inconsistent statements, the settlement reserved contribution claims and thus the bankruptcy court could not have been misled and it would be unfair to estop Asarco from pursuing a reserved claim based on an ambiguous sentence in a long report filed in the bankruptcy case. It held that the district court erred in ruing Asarco cannot prove it paid more than its proportionate share of liability and that a consent decree between Mining and the Environmental Protection Agency bared recovery because Asarco’s settlement does not make the same timing distinctions that the decree does, the claims include geographic areas not covered by the decree and the record at this point supports Asarco’s position that it overpaid in the bankruptcy settlement and thus genuine issues of fact remain on these issues.