The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) imposes liability for cleanup costs where there has been a release to the environment of a hazardous substance. Liability has been construed by the courts as strict, even though Congress rejected an explicit provision of strict liability. Moreover, CERCLA liability permits no defenses except those found in the Act. CERCLA provides an affirmative defense to liability actions where a third party has solely caused the release of the hazardous substance. Congress attempted to clarify the land contract issue as part of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA). This Note will focus on two classes of innocent purchasers: first, a prospective purchaser who hopes to avoid CERCLA liability, and second, an actual purchaser who, after buying property, discovers a release of a hazardous substance. The statutory defense for the innocent purchaser is relevant no matter which forum the purchaser chooses to reduce his liability. Accordingly, this Note will examine judicial interpretations of both defenses. This Note will argue that the substantive basis can be found in SARA. While CERCLA intended liability to be strict, SARA intended in a limited way to reintroduce concepts of negligence. SARA introduced reasonableness concepts into its guidance for evaluating appropriate inquiry. Appropriate inquiry should invoke the standard of a reasonable person with the same requisite knowledge as the purchaser, and involved in the same type of transaction.
Note, Superfund Liability Alternatives for the Innocent Purchaser, 39 Clev. St. L. Rev. 79 (1991)