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Airlines exempt from September 11 environmental claim: U.S. court

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - American Airlines, United Airlines and the World Trade Center leaseholder do not have to pay a property developer environmental cleanup costs from the September 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said that the attacks were an act of war, exempting defendants of liability under a law enacted in 1980 to deal with environmental and health risks caused by industrial pollution.

Real estate developer Cedar & Washington Associates sued in 2008 to recoup costs associated with cleaning up asbestos, fiberglass and other particles during the renovation of a 12-story apartment building near the site in lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center's twin towers were destroyed.

The federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) has exceptions to liability, including acts of war.

"The attacks wrested from the defendants all control over the planes and the buildings...and located sole responsibility for the event and the environmental consequences on fanatics whose acts the defendants were not bound by CERCLA to anticipate or prevent," Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote in the court's opinion.

The opinion affirmed a 2013 decision from U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein.

Lawyers for Cedar & Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.

The attacks, in which hijackers crashed planes operated by American and United, killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

The defendants included the airlines, their parents AMR Corp and United Continental Holdings, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and Larry Silverstein, leaseholder of the World Trade Center properties.

"We are gratified by the ruling," said Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines.

Representatives for the Port Authority and United Airlines were not immediately available for comment. Bud Perrone, a spokesman for Silverstein, declined to comment.

The case is Cedar & Washington Associates LLC v. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 10-4197

(Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)

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