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By Michael Doyle, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday dealt a blow to North Carolina families trying to sue over groundwater contamination at a big Marine Corps base.

In a technical decision with real-world consequences, the court upheld North Carolina’s limits on how long people have to bring certain pollution-related lawsuits. By upholding the state’s 10-year limit, called a statute of repose, the court effectively undercut lawsuits centering on Camp Lejeune.

“Time is the controlling factor,” Justice Anthony Kennedy declared.

The immediate case decided Monday involved the CTS Corp., and not the Camp Lejeune groundwater contamination. The separate Camp Lejeune cases, though, will be affected by the ruling in the CTS case.

That’s because the North Carolina law starts a 10-year clock running from the last culpable act of the defendant — for instance, from when a company stops polluting or sells its property. After the clock runs out, lawsuits alleging injury from the contamination are banned.

The state’s 10-year statute of repose is a stricter standard, and potentially friendlier to polluters, than a federal law that starts a two-year lawsuit clock running only after people discover they have been harmed. Often, Kennedy acknowledged, “a person who is exposed to a toxic contaminant may not develop or show signs of resulting injury for many years.”

But though it was not closely divided, the court’s 7-2 majority decision also drew a sharp retort from dissenting justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

“Instead of encouraging prompt identification and remediation before it can kill, the court’s decision gives contaminators an incentive to conceal the hazards they have created until the repose period has run its full course,” Ginsburg wrote.

CTS owned an electronics manufacturing facility in Asheville, North Carolina, until 1987. The land was subsequently sold and developed as a residential subdivision. Long after CTS sold the land, residents began learning in 2009 that their well water contained carcinogenic chemicals, including trichloroethylene.

Trichloroethylene was also one of the chemicals also found in Camp Lejeune water.

The residents’ lawsuit over the former CTS Corp. land was filed in 2011, 24 years after the company sold the property. An appellate court said the suit could nonetheless proceed, on the grounds that the federal statute of limitations pegged to discovery of injury pre-empted the state’s statute of repose pegged to the sale of the land.

The excruciating question facing the Supreme Court was whether North Carolina’s statute of repose was different than the statute of limitations established in the 1980 federal Superfund law. The court’s majority decided it was, and so was not pre-empted by the federal limit.

“Each has a distinct purpose,” Kennedy reasoned, adding that “a statute of repose can be said to provide a fresh start or freedom from liability.”

Timothy Bishop, an appellate attorney who has represented corporate clients with the firm Mayer Brown, praised the court’s decision, saying it “provides certainty for businesses and landowners who otherwise might face suit indefinitely.”

John Korzen, director of the appellate advocacy project at the Wake Forest University School of Law and attorney for the residents challenging CTS, said Monday he was “disappointed, for sure” in the court’s decision. At the same time, Korzen said several other issues may distinguish the CTS case from the still-pending Camp Lejeune cases.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

President Trump and former Vice President Biden at first 2020 presidential debate

Screenshot from C-Span YouTube

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Donald Trump is claiming that he will still debate despite the rule change that will cut off the candidates' microphones while their opponent delivers his initial two-minute response to each of the debate's topics. But everything else Trump and his campaign are saying sounds like they're laying the groundwork to back out.

"I will participate," Trump told reporters Monday night. "But it's very unfair that they changed the topics and it's very unfair that again we have an anchor who's totally biased." At his Arizona rally Monday, Trump attacked moderator Kristen Welker as a "radical Democrat" and claimed she had "deleted her entire account," which is false. Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, went further in his whining about the debate.

Stepien touted a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates as "Our letter to the BDC (Biden Debate Commission)." That letter came before the CPD announced that it would mute microphones for portions of the debate in response to Trump's constant interruptions at the first debate, though Stepien knew such a decision was likely coming, writing, "It is our understanding from media reports that you will soon be holding an internal meeting to discuss other possible rule changes, such as granting an unnamed person the ability to shut off a candidate's microphone. It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden."

Shooooot, here I thought it was generous to Trump that the microphones will only be cut to give each candidate two uninterrupted minutes, leaving Trump the remainder of each 15-minute debate segment to interrupt.

But what did Stepien mean by "other possible rule changes," you ask? What was the first rule change? Well, it wasn't one. Stepien wrote to strongly complain that "We write with great concern over the announced topics for what was always billed as the 'Foreign Policy Debate' in the series of events agreed to by both the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign many months ago." Welker's announced topics include "Fighting COVID-19, American families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership," Stepien complained, using this as a launching pad to attack Biden on foreign policy.

Except this debate was never billed as a foreign policy debate. It's true that in past years, the third debate has sometimes focused on foreign policy, but here in 2020, the CPD's original announcement of debate formats and moderators said of the third debate, "The format for the debate will be identical to the first presidential debate," and the first debate "will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator."

So even before the CPD finalized the decision to prevent Trump from interrupting for two minutes in each of six segments, so 12 minutes out of a 90-minute debate, Team Trump was falsely complaining that the debate was rigged. No wonder—as a Biden campaign spokesman noted, the Trump campaign is upset "because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous Covid response."

Trump has lost one debate and backed out of one debate. If he goes into this one with the attitude he's showing now—attacking the moderator, attacking the topics, enraged that he can't interrupt for two entire minutes at a time—he's going to lose this one, badly, once again hurting his already weak reelection prospects. So which will it be? Back out and have that be the story, or alienate one of the largest audiences of the entire presidential campaign by showing what kind of person he is?