Illinois Supreme Court Affirms No Private Rights of Action Exist Under Illinois Environmental Protection Act’s Tank Program

The Takeaway

The Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling in Rice v. Marathon Petroleum Corporation, et al. emphasized the distinction between legal remedies for protecting the environment (a purview of the government and its agencies) and legal remedies for personal injuries resulting from violations of environmental laws (a common-law function).

Case Background

Rice brought an action for common-law negligence and also alleged liability under the Illinois Environmental Protection Act (Act) and the Illinois Pollution Control Board’s regulations. She sought to recover under strict liability pursuant to the LUST (leaking underground storage tank) provisions of the Act.

The district court granted defendants’ motions to dismiss the counts based on liability under the Act; the appellate court affirmed. The courts found that neither expressed nor implied private rights of action to recover for personal injuries exists in the Act itself or in its LUST sections. Instead, a common-law negligence action was deemed an adequate remedy.

Plaintiff appealed to Illinois’ Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Ruling

The Illinois Supreme Court found that “there is no express private right of action under the LUST Program provisions of the Act.” The Court then examined the factors used to determine if a statute implies a private right of action. Under these factors, implication is appropriate when:

  1. The plaintiff is a member of the class for whose benefit the statute was enacted.
  2. The plaintiff’s injury is one the statute was designed to prevent.
  3. A private right of action is consistent with the underlying purpose of the statute.
  4. Implying a private right of action is necessary to provide an adequate remedy for violations of the statute.

Applying these factors, the Court held that the LUST program under the Act does not imply a private right of action for third parties who allege personal injuries as a result of a release from an underground storage tank. It emphasized that “[t]he purpose of the Act and its associated regulations is to protect the environment and to minimize environmental damage.”

The Court further explained that the LUST Program and its regulations “indicate that the Act, and the LUST Program in particular, was intended to protect resources, not to protect third parties injured by leaking underground storage tanks or to provide them with a cause of action for those personal injuries.”

  • Melissa S. Brown

    Melissa S. Brown focuses her practice on environmental law, assisting clients on a wide variety of environmental issues. Her clients regularly benefit from her ability to:

    • counsel them on environmental compliance issues ...

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Kerri Forsythe

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