Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

by
Stephen Taylor was convicted by jury of numerous sex offenses against his adopted daughters, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. In total, the jury convicted him on 12 counts. The trial court sentenced him to prison for a one-year determinate term and an aggregate indeterminate term of 165 years to life. On appeal, Taylor argued the trial court erred by admitting expert testimony on child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, and instructing the jurors that they could use that evidence to evaluate the victims’ credibility. He also claimed the court made several sentencing errors: (1) by imposing two indeterminate terms under the former “One Strike” law for two offenses that occurred during a single occasion; (2) by imposing multiple punishments for four counts of aggravated sexual assault and four counts of lewd acts arising from the same facts; and (3) by imposing a restitution fine and court operations and facilities fees without an ability to pay hearing. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court erred by imposing multiple punishments on four counts of aggravated sexual assault (counts 1 through 4) and four counts of forcible lewd acts (counts 5 through 8) that arose from the same conduct. Accordingly, Taylor’s sentence was stayed on counts 5 through 8. The Court also agreed the court should hold an ability to pay hearing, at least as to the court operations and facilities fees. Therefore, the Court reversed the order imposing those fees and remanded for a hearing on Taylor’s ability to pay them. As to the restitution fine, Taylor forfeited his contention. The Court otherwise rejected Taylor’s arguments and affirmed. View "Holden v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

by
Commercial crab traps must have a destruction device so that trapped wildlife can escape if the trap is lost or abandoned. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was patrolling Monterey Bay and saw crab trap buoys in the Soquel Canyon State Marine Conservation Area, where crab trapping is prohibited. Each of 29 traps was attached to a buoy bearing Wetle’s license number and had a tag bearing the Dungeness crab permit number belonging to Wetles. In some pulled traps, the bait jar was placed to prevent the destruction device from operating. The crew put a note to call the warden in a trap and returned it to the water. Bond, the skipper of the fishing vessel owned by Wetle’s father and Wetle’s wife, responded. Bond had previously been convicted of three felonies and five misdemeanors. Wetle was convicted under California Code of Regulations 14 section 632(a)(1)(C) and section 180.2 (Fish and Game Code 12000(a)). The appellate division of the Monterey County Superior Court affirmed. The court of appeal reversed, noting Wetle’s evidence that he was out of the country at the time the traps were placed. The trial court committed prejudicial instructional error. It did not instruct jurors that they must find that the defendant himself used the defective trap, which is an element of the offense View "People v. Wetle" on Justia Law

by
Years of heavy industrial use at Wisconsin's Badger Army Ammunition Plant contaminated the soil and groundwater with asbestos, lead paint, PCBs, and oil. Operations ceased in 1975. Remediation has yielded thousands of acres suitable for recreational use. The National Park Service donated 3,000 acres to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. An environmental group sued to halt three activities at the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area: dog training for hunting, off-road motorcycle riding, and helicopter drills by the Wisconsin National Guard citing the Property and Administrative Services Act, which controls deeds issued through the Federal Land to Parks Program, 40 U.S.C. 550. The Act requires the government to enforce the terms of its deeds and that the land be used for recreational purposes. The relevant deeds require that Wisconsin use the park for its originally intended purposes. Dog training and motorcycle riding were not mentioned in Wisconsin’s initial application. The group also argued that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321, required an environmental impact statement. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment. Dog training and off-road motorcycle riding were not mentioned in the application, but are recreational uses. While helicopter training is not recreational, the Service included an explicit deed provision reserving the right to continue the flights, as authorized by the Property Act. The Service reasonably concluded that its approval of dog training and motorcycle riding fell within a NEPA categorical exclusion for minor amendments to an existing plan. The Service was not required to prepare an environmental impact statement for helicopter training because it had no authority to discontinue the flights. View "Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

by
Sturgell was a commercial fisher for 48 years. He held Dungeness crab permits in Washington, Oregon, and California. During the 2012–2013 season, Sturgell landed 203,045 pounds of crab in California. Sturgell’s taking of crab in California before the delayed opening of the Oregon crab fishery meant he was required to wait until January 30, 2013, before taking, possessing, or landing that crab in Oregon. He could take crab in Washington on January 24. On January 29, Sturgell arrived in Astoria, Oregon to offload the crabs he had taken in Washington. He began to offload crabs at 6:15 p.m and offloaded 38,295 pounds; the balance of the 64,694 total offload was completed by 4:00 a.m. on January 30. A “Receiving Ticket,” indicating the “date of landing” as January 29, 2013, was signed by Sturgell and the buyer. The buyer later stated that this was “in error” as the ticket was actually written, “between 4[:00] a.m. and 5[:00] a.m. on January 30, 2013, after the offload was completed.” Pursuant to Fish and Game Code section 8043, a landing receipt “shall be completed at the time of the receipt, purchase, or transfer of fish.” Sturgell’s permit was revoked. The trial court ordered the permit reinstated. The court of appeal dismissed the agency’s appeal as moot, with instructions that the trial court vacate its decision. Sturgill had retired and sold his permit for over $500,000. The Department approved the transfer. View "Sturgell v. Department of Fish and Wildlife" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed suit against federal and state agencies in a dispute over the widening of Interstate Highway 630, alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., and NEPA's implementing regulations, 40 C.F.R. 1500-1508. Determining that it had jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of injunctive relief, holding that plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims. In this case, plaintiffs failed to show that the FHWA's determination that the project qualifies for a categorical exclusion from NEPA requirements because the project takes place entirely within the existing operational right-of-way was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law. View "Wise v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

by
Under Water Code section 13304, a prior owner of property may be required to participate in the cleanup of wastes discharged from its property that resulted in groundwater contamination if that person “caused or permitted” the discharge. The San Francisco Regional Board named UATC in a cleanup order addressing waste discharges from dry cleaning operations at a shopping center owned by UATC in the 1960s and 1970s. The court of appeal reversed, in favor of the Board. The knowledge component of the statutory element of “permitted” focuses on the landlord’s awareness of a risk of discharge: a prior owner may be named in a section 13304 cleanup order upon a showing the owner knew or should have known that a lessee’s activity created a reasonable possibility of a discharge of wastes into waters of the state that could create or threaten to create a condition of pollution or nuisance. The court rejected UATC’s argument that its liability was discharged in a 2000 bankruptcy reorganization proceeding. Even assuming the Regional Board’s entitlement to a cleanup order was a claim within the meaning of bankruptcy law, it was not discharged in UATC’s bankruptcy proceeding because it did not arise before confirmation of reorganization. View "United Artists Theater Circuit, Inc. v. Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Region" on Justia Law

by
Continental Resources, Inc. appealed a district court judgment dismissing its declaratory judgment action against the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (“Department”). Continental’s action for declaratory judgment requested the district court find “that if an approved control device is installed and operating at an oil and gas production facility, the mere presence of an emission from a closed tank hatch or control device does not, in and of itself, establish a violation of N.D. Admin. Code 33-15-07-2(1).” The district court dismissed Continental’s declaratory judgment action after finding the Environmental Protection Agency was an indispensable party, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and the matter was not ripe for judicial review. While this appeal was pending, the Department moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment dismissing Continental’s request for declaratory judgment as not ripe for judicial review. View "Continental Resources v. N.D. Dept. of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

by
Tesoro appealed the denial of a writ of mandate seeking to set aside a cleanup and abatement order (CAO) issued by the Regional Board. As a threshold matter, the court held that the factual question of when Tesoro's pipelines leaked pollutants was never answered because Tesoro never argued to the Regional Board that this action involved an impermissible retroactive application of the Porter-Cologne Act. The court held that where, as here, the administrative agency has not determined a factual predicate for a defense such as this one, administrative exhaustion should preclude the argument. Furthermore, the term "discharge" must be read to include not only the initial occurrence, but also the passive migration of the contamination into the soil and, ultimately, into the groundwater. The court held that substantial evidence supported the trial court's independent judgment that Tesoro's pipelines were the source of the contamination addressed in the CAO; it would have been futile for Tesoro to argue its narrow definition of "discharge" before the Regional Board, thereby excusing its failure to exhaust; and even if substantial evidence in the record supported Tesoro's factual contention that the initial discharge from its pipelines necessarily occurred before 1970, it would still be an actionable discharge under the Porter-Cologne Act. View "Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co., LLC v. L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

by
Cranbury Development bought a long-abandoned weapons-manufacturing facility that the U.S. military and others contaminated. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) ordered the parties responsible for the contamination (Cranbury, Maxxam, and the U.S. Navy) to memorialize their commitment to perform remediation. The Navy refused to take part. In 2005, Cranbury and Maxxam entered into a Consent Order with NJDEP, agreeing to clean up the site; NJDEP agreed not to sue them if they complied. That settlement let Cranbury and Maxxam seek contribution 10 from other polluters (like the Navy) while immunizing them from such claims. In 2006, Brick Yard bought the site, planning to redevelop it into commercial warehouses, and sought to assume Cranbury Development’s cleanup obligations. Brick Yard agreed to join the existing agreement, substituting for Cranbury Development. During the cleanup, problems arose. Brick Yard claims to have spent $50 million in the process. In 2015, Brick Yard sued the federal government, seeking cost recovery and contribution under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9607(a), 9613(f)(1). The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of the claims. The settlement with the state gave Brick Yard immunity from contribution claims, which extinguished its cost-recovery claim. The contribution claim against the federal government is untimely because Brick Yard sued nine years after joining the settlement. View "Cranbury Brick Yard, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The issue presented to the Vermont Supreme Court in this case involved a state water-quality certification made pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), issued by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) for the operation of hydroelectric dams. ANR certified three dams operated by Morrisville Water and Light (MWL) and imposed conditions, including those to control the minimum amount of water released from each dam to support habitat for fish. MWL appealed these conditions to the Environmental Division. American Whitewater and Vermont Paddlers’ Club (collectively the Paddlers) also appealed, arguing that the conditions at one facility did not allow for whitewater boating. The Environmental Division rejected ANR’s flow rates and imposed MWL’s proposed flow rates, affirmed ANR’s conditions regarding a winter drawdown for one site, and imposed scheduled releases of water as requested by the Paddlers. ANR appeals and MWL cross appeals. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Environmental Division erred in rejecting ANR’s interpretation of its antidegradation policy and methodology for calculating flow rate, and affirmed the Environmental Division on the winter drawdown and timed releases for the Paddlers at the Green River facility. View "In re Morrisville Hydroelectric Project Water Quality" on Justia Law