3M Co. v. Browner - Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)
3M Co. v. Browner, 17 F.3d 1453 (1994), involved a civil enforcement proceeding brought for violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act that were alleged to have occurred more than five years earlier.
The Court held that the EPA's cause of action accrued, and thus the five-year statute of limitations began to run, when the violation occurred rather than when the EPA actually discovered or with due diligence should have discovered the violation. Id. at 1460-63.
In so doing, we specifically took note of the general discovery-of-injury rule that we had recently adopted in Connors, but explained that it "applied only to remedial, civil claims." Id. at 1460.
Because the case against 3M was penal in nature--the statute imposed a five-year limitations period for any "fine, penalty, or forfeiture"--the Court held that the generally applicable discovery-of-injury rule adopted in Connors did not apply in that case. If the discovery-of-injury rule were applicable to an agency-initiated civil penalty case, then the court would have to determine whether the agency, with the exercise of due diligence should have detected the violations earlier than it had--an oversight activity that (at least absent a statutory directive to the contrary) is better suited to the legislature than to the court. Id. at 1461.