MANHATTAN (CN) - John D. Rockefeller's great-grandchildren do not owe any part of a $50.2 million environmental bill paid by a mining company that the tycoon controlled more than a century ago, the 2nd Circuit ruled Wednesday.
Asarco - the American Smelting and Refining Company - said that Rockefeller had been at the helm of the company when it left hazardous arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals and metal-like substances in two Washington state sites - the Everett Smelter and the Monte Cristo Mining Area - at the turn of the 20th century.
In 2005, Asarco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and it entered into two settlements three years later agreeing to pay $50.2 million for environmental cleanups of these sites. It later sued the Rockefeller's heirs in Federal Court for contribution.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa, who dismissed that case as time-barred, noted that the statute behind Asarco's liability "didn't even exist at the time of his death." Superfund sprang into being from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980.
Upholding that decision, 2nd Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch agreed that the timing had not been right for the lawsuit.
"This case requires us to decide whether, in 2014, the Trustees of the residuary trust created by the will of John D. Rockefeller Sr. in 1937 may be made to contribute to cleanup costs of environmental contamination allegedly caused by corporations controlled by Rockefeller in Washington State between 1892 and 1993," Lynch wrote in the first sentence of the 31-page opinion.
On behalf of the unanimous three-judge panel, Lynch found that that he did not have to decide whether Rockefeller's heirs could be held liable under that theory because of a different timing issue.
Superfund law's 3-year statute of limitations for contributions already had elapsed between Asarco's 2008 settlements and the company's 2011 lawsuit against the Rockefeller heirs, the judge found.