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The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act—better known as CERCLA—provides potentially responsible parties (PRPs) with causes of action for cost recovery and contribution, which allow PRPs to recover environmental cleanup costs and allocate those costs among other PRPs. When asserting a claim under CERCLA, PRPs will often include causes of action under state law, and in particularly state corollary environmental statutes.

In New Jersey, that statute is the Spill Compensation and Control Act, commonly referred to as the Spill Act, which allows PRPs to seek contribution to recover cleanup costs. While similar in many ways, key differences between CERCLA and the Spill Act can under certain circumstances magnify the importance of a PRP’s Spill Act claims. For example, unlike under CERCLA, claims for contribution by private PRPs under the Spill Act are not subject to a statute of limitations.

Practitioners evaluating such claims must consider New Jersey’s Entire Controversy Doctrine, “an equitable preclusionary doctrine” designed “to encourage comprehensive and conclusive litigation determinations, avoid fragmentation of litigation, and promote party fairness and judicial efficiency.” Pressler & Verniero, Current N.J. Court Rules, comment 1 to R. 4:30A (2020).  Subject to considerations of fairness, that doctrine generally requires that all aspects of the controversy between those who are parties to the litigation be included in a single action. See Dimitrakopoulus v. Borrus, Goldin, Foley, Vignuolo, Hyman & Stahl, 237 N.J. 91, 108 (2019) (citing Cogdell v. Hosp. Ctr. at Orange, 116 N.J. 7 (1989)).

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