The CTS Corporation has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to overturn a June ruling from a federal appeals court that would allow 23 local citizens to go forward with a their lawsuit demanding compensation and cleanup of the company’s contaminated former Asheville site.
That ruling overturned a district court ruling that had denied the locals a right to proceed with their lawsuit because it had been more than 10 years since the original contamination occurred. CTS closed the plant in 1986; contamination was documented by 1990; but it wasn’t until 2009 that two of the property owners in the suit — David Bradley and Renee Richardson — learned that their well water also showed unsafe levels of TCE and other toxins linked to company disposal practices at the facility (see Off Target, July 13, 2010, Xpress). Twenty-one of their neighbors joined in the suit, which failed at the district level.
The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, voting 2-1 in the residents’ favor, finding that federal law intended to give relief from contamination, even though the danger might remain hidden for many years, trumped the state limitation.
That move meant that the case could directly go forward to a trial, or CTS could try one last appeal to the Supreme Court. They chose the latter, asserting that the matter is not as clear as the Fourth Circuit’s ruling makes it out to be, that it conflicts with previous case law, and that it “deepens a conflict in the state and federal appellate courts.”
Tate McQueen, a resident of the affected Mills Gap Road area and a party to the suit, believes that if CTS wins its appeal, it could have implications for others facing health issues or similar dangers from hidden contamination.
The Supreme Court could choose not to hear the court, which would let the Fourth Circuit’s ruling stand and mean a trial would go forward. He and the other residents, McQueen notes, will be watching the results of the appeal carefully.
Still, overall McQueen believes that federal officials and the justice system have failed the residents by letting the issue continue for so long.
“We’re still waiting for action to remove the source that EPA removed in 1990, it’s really shocking the difference between what we teach in school and how that’s actually applies,” he tells Xpress. “We’re experiencing an absolute absence on our federal officials.”