Atlantic Richfield Co. v Christian

Property rights enable landowners to protect themselves from pollution

Amicus Briefs > Property Rights > Atlantic Richfield Co. v Christian

In Atlantic Richfield Company v. Christian, the Supreme Court will decide whether landowners can sue the owner of a copper smelter that dumped tons of toxic pollutants on their property. If they can sue, as the Montana Supreme Court held, private property rights will remain one of the most important tools for protecting the environment. If they can’t, as the company and the federal government argue, unelected bureaucrats and polluters will be able to freely bargain away the property rights of innocent landowners, to the detriment of both property rights and the environment.

In our friend-of-the-court brief, PLF and the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) argue that the Supreme Court should affirm the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and hold that federal law does not prevent landowners from suing polluters for money to correct environmental damage to their property.

  • When Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (commonly known as Superfund), it respected the important role that common law property rights play in protecting the environment by providing that “nothing” in Superfund “shall affect or modify in any way” these rights.
  • As the Montana Supreme Court observed, there is no evidence that “Congress’s objective was to condemn, in perpetuity, the private property of an individual property owner because that property happened to have been contaminated by a third party.” Indeed, were this the effect of federal law, it would be one of the most significant violations of the Constitution’s Takings Clause imaginable.
  • Historically, property rights have been an essential tool to protect the environment by giving landowners the right to prevent environmental harm to their property and forcing would-be polluters to account for environmental harms imposed on others.

Related Documents

PLF regularly participates as amicus curiae, or friend of the court, in cases brought by others. This supplements our direct representation cases by providing judges with unique, strategic, and helpful arguments to consider when crafting their opinions in related cases

Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian - PLF AC Merits Brief

October 22, 2019 Download

What’s at stake?

  • At stake are the property rights of the countless landowners near any Superfund sites and the authority of unelected federal bureaucrats to interfere with those rights.
  • Taking away the rights of property owners to sue polluters would deal a significant blow to both property rights and environmental protection, which are more closely intertwined than most people realize.

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