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Court rules against homeowners in toxic water case

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 9, 2014 at 11:51 am •  Published: June 9, 2014
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a group of homeowners in North Carolina can't sue a company that contaminated their drinking water decades ago because a state deadline has lapsed, a decision that could prevent thousands of other property owners in similar cases from recovering damages after being exposed to toxic waste.

In a 7-2 decision, the justices said state law strictly bars any lawsuit brought more than 10 years after the contamination occurred — even if residents did not realize their water was polluted until years later.

The high court reversed a lower court ruling that said federal environmental laws should trump the state law and allow the lawsuit against electronics manufacturer CTS Corp. to proceed.

The decision is a setback for the families of several thousand former North Carolina-based Marines suing the federal government in a separate case for exposing them to contaminated drinking water over several decades at Camp Lejeune. The government is relying on the same state law to avoid liability. That case is currently pending at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

The ruling on Monday involves property owners living on land where CTS used to make electronics equipment until it sold the property in 1987. It wasn't until 2009 that residents discovered their well water contained chemicals that can cause numerous health problems including cancers, reproductive disorders and birth defects.

North Carolina has a "statute of repose" that ends a plaintiff's right to seek damages to property more than 10 years after the last act of contamination occurred. The property owners argued that their claims were still valid under federal environmental laws, which give victims two years to sue from the date they discover what caused their illness.

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