Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries
In re: Center for Biological Diversity, et al.
The Environmental Protection Agency registered a new pesticide without first determining, as required by the Endangered Species Act, whether it would have an adverse effect on endangered species. Then, five years ago, the DC Circuit Court ordered EPA to fulfill that statutory obligation. Notwithstanding Congress’s mandate and the court’s order, EPA has failed to make the required determination. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety sought the only legal relief left that would force the EPA to comply with the statute: a writ of mandamus. The DC Circuit granted the writ. The court explained that the mandamus petition, in this case, arises from relatively unique circumstances that implicate two distinct sources of mandamus jurisdiction under the All Writs Act: the court’s power to compel unreasonably delayed agency activity and its power to require compliance with our previously issued orders. Further, weighing in favor mandamus is the potential threat cyantraniliprole poses to endangered species. Moreover, the court explained that whether EPA’s internal deadline demonstrates that it is acting in good faith is beside the point. The court need not find bad faith to find unreasonable delay. Thus, the court ordered the EPA to its previous order with an order consistent with the ESA by September 2023. EPA is directed to submit status updates every 60 days between now and September 2023. The court explained that should EPA fail to meet its September deadline, Petitioners are free to renew their motion for vacatur of cyantraniliprole’s registration order. View "In re: Center for Biological Diversity, et al." on Justia Law
Dept. of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates
This appeal centered whether Section 6 of the California Constitution required the state to reimburse the defendant local governments (collectively permittees or copermittees) for costs they incurred to satisfy conditions which the state imposed on their stormwater discharge permit. Defendant-respondent Commission on State Mandates (the Commission) determined that six of the eight permit conditions challenged in this action were reimbursable state mandates. They required permittees to provide a new program. Permittees also did not have sufficient legal authority to levy a fee for those conditions because doing so required preapproval by the voters. The Commission also determined that the other two conditions requiring the development and implementation of environmental mitigation plans for certain new development were not reimbursable state mandates. Permittees had authority to levy a fee for those conditions. On petitions for writ of administrative mandate, the trial court upheld the Commission’s decision in its entirety and denied the petitions. Plaintiffs, cross-defendants and appellants State Department of Finance, the State Water Resources Board, and the Regional Water Quality Board, San Diego Region (collectively the State) appealed, contending the six permit conditions found to be reimbursable state mandates were not mandates because the permit did not require permittees to provide a new program and permittees had authority to levy fees for those conditions without obtaining voter approval. Except to hold that the street sweeping condition was not a reimburseable mandate, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Dept. of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law
Bull Field, LLC v. Merced Irrigation Dist.
Appellants Bull Field, LLC, Barley, LLC and Colburn Hills Ranch, LLC (Appellants) appeal from a judgment denying their petition for a writ of mandate (Petition). Appellants sought an order compelling respondent Merced Irrigation District (District) to sell them surplus surface water for the 2019 water year. Appellants’ farmland is outside the District, but within the same groundwater basin as the District’s service area. The District authorized the sale of surplus water to out-of-district users for 2019 but denied Appellants’ application to purchase such water. The District claimed, and the trial court found, that the District’s general manager denied Appellants’ applications to purchase surplus surface water because the District had a history of difficult dealings with Appellants’ manager. Substantial evidence supports that finding. The Second Appellate District affirmed, finding that District acted within its discretion in making its decision on this ground. The court explained that the court may not interfere with the District’s discretionary decision that denying Appellants’ applications to purchase surplus water was in its best interest. The court may not substitute its judgment for the District about how its interests would best be served. So long as the District actually exercised such discretion, this court may not issue a writ contravening the District’s decision. View "Bull Field, LLC v. Merced Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law
State v. Audi Aktiengesellschaft
In these consolidated appeals the Supreme Court denied Respondents' request to withdraw the Chief Justice's certification letter and dismiss the underlying petitions as improvidently granted, holding that the Governor's appointment of two substitute justices to participate in the determination of these cases did not violate due process or due course of law protections.After two of the Supreme Court's nine justices voluntarily recused themselves from the case, the Chief Justice requested that the Governor appoint two qualified justices or judges to participate in the Court's determination of these appeals. Respondents objected, arguing that allowing the Governor to appoint justices would create due process and ethical problems where the State was not a party. The Supreme Court denied Respondents' requests to dismiss the petitions as improvidently granted, holding (1) there was no serious risk of actual bias under Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 556 U.S. 868 (2009); and (2) the Governor's appointment of the two substitute justices did not taint the commissioned justices with the appearance of partiality or impropriety under the Texas ethical rules. View "State v. Audi Aktiengesellschaft" on Justia Law
Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc.
In this case's previous trip to the Court of Appeal, the Court reversed the trial court’s judgment overturning a cleanup order issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Valley Region (Regional Board). The cleanup order directed Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) to remediate hazardous waste associated with an abandoned mine in Plumas County. The mine was owned by the Walker Mining Company, a subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest, International Smelting and Refining Company and Anaconda Copper Mining Company (International/Anaconda). The Court of Appeal held the trial court improperly applied the test articulated in United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51 (1998) for determining whether a parent company is directly liable for pollution as an operator of a polluting facility owned by a subsidiary. On remand, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the Regional Board, concluding “[t]he record supported a determination of eccentric control of mining ‘operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.’ ” ARCO appealed, contending: (1) the trial court improperly applied Bestfoods to the facts of this case, resulting in a finding of liability that was unsupported by substantial evidence; (2) the Regional Board abused its discretion by failing to exclude certain expert testimony as speculative; (3) the Regional Board’s actual financial bias in this matter required invalidation of the cleanup order for violation of due process; and (4) the cleanup order erroneously imposed joint and several liability on ARCO. Finding no reversible error to this order, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law
GreenRoots, Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd.
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the Energy Facilities Siting Board approving a project change petition filed by NSTAR Electric Company, doing business as Eversource Energy, that would move the boundaries of an electric substation 190 feet from the location that had previously been approved, holding that the Board did not err in approving the project change.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the Board did not err in determining that GreenRoots, Inc. did not satisfy the applicable legal standard for the reopening of a completed adjudicatory proceeding; (2) the Board complied with the statutory and regulatory requirements regarding public participation and environmental justice; and (3) the Board's conclusion that Eversource reasonably addressed risks from future sea level rise under the circumstances was supported by substantial evidence. View "GreenRoots, Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd." on Justia Law
State ex rel. Stein v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co
The Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause allows North Carolina courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over companies that received millions of dollars in assets by E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company (Old DuPont) when the company, facing liability for releasing harmful chemicals into the North Carolina environment over a period of decades, underwent a significant corporate reorganization.North Carolina brought an action against Old DuPont and its corporate successors, asserting negligence, trespass, public nuisance, fraud, and fraudulent transfer related to Old DuPont's use of harmful chemicals at its Fayetteville Works plant and its subsequent reorganization to avoid liability. At issue was whether the Due Process Clause permits jurisdiction to be exercised over a corporate successor when the predecessor is subject to jurisdiction in the forum and state law subjects the successor to liability. The Supreme Court affirmed the business court's denial of Defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that personal jurisdiction could be established through the imputation analysis for all of the State's claims arising out of or related to Old DuPont's activities in North Carolina. View "State ex rel. Stein v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co" on Justia Law
SAVE THE BULL TROUT, ET AL V. MARTHA WILLIAMS, ET AL
After the Oregon district court dismissed their initial complaint alleging claims concerning the Plan, two of the three plaintiffs in this action (Friends of the Wild Swan and Alliance for the Wild Rockies) elected not to amend to fix the deficiencies identified in the court’s order. Instead, Plaintiffs appealed, and after losing on appeal, they sought to amend their complaint. The district court denied their motion to amend and found no grounds to reopen the judgment. Rather than appealing that determination, Plaintiffs initiated a new action in the District of Montana raising a challenge to the legality of the Plan. The Montana district court declined to dismiss on the basis of claim preclusion, but granted summary judgment in favor of the Service on the merits of Plaintiffs’ challenges. The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order amending the opinion filed on September 28, 2022; and (2) an amended opinion affirming the district court’s judgment in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based on claim preclusion in an action brought by plaintiff environmental groups, challenging the Service’s 2015 Bull Trout Recovery Plan (the “Plan”) under the citizen-suit provision of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The court explained that here, the Service offered claim preclusion as an alternate basis for affirming the district court’s judgment. The panel held that because the Service raised claim preclusion before the district court and in its briefing on appeal, the issue was properly before the court. The panel held that Plaintiffs’ challenge to the Plan was precluded because the Oregon litigation was a final judgment on the merits of their claims. View "SAVE THE BULL TROUT, ET AL V. MARTHA WILLIAMS, ET AL" on Justia Law
USA v. F.E.B. Corp.
After Wisteria Island’s birth, Congress ceded title to all lands within three miles of the United States’s coast to the states, except for lands that were (1) “built up,” “filled in,” “or otherwise reclaimed” (2) by the United States (3) for the United States’s use. We must determine whether Wisteria Island satisfies this exception. Only the third requirement is at issue in this appeal: whether the United States created Wisteria Island for its “use.” Plaintiff-Counterdefendant-Appellee United States says that it created Wisteria Island to store dredged soil. Defendant-Counterclaimant-Appellant F.E.B., which claims to own the island, rejects the United States’s assertion that it built Wisteria Island for its “use.” According to F.E.B., the island arose simply as a result of the United States’s discarding of the soil it dredged from the channel. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the United States that, if it created Wisteria Island as a place to store dredged soil, then the United States built up or filled in Wisteria Island for the United States’s use. But on this record, the court found a genuine issue of material fact exists as to why the United States created the island. So after a thorough review of the record and with the benefit of oral argument, the court affirmed in part and vacate in part the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the United States and denial of summary judgment to F.E.B., and remanded this case for a factual determination of why the United States created Wisteria Island. View "USA v. F.E.B. Corp." on Justia Law
SAN LUIS OBISPO COASTKEEPER, ET AL V. SANTA MARIA VALLEY WATER CONSE, ET AL
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Santa Maria Water District (collectively, the “Agencies”) in an action brought by San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and Los Padres ForestWatch (“Plaintiffs”), claiming that the Agencies’ operation of Twitchell Dam interfered with Southern California Steelhead’s reproductive migration, which constituted an unlawful take in violation of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The panel held that under PL 774, the Agencies had discretion to release water from Twitchell Dam to avoid take of endangered Southern California Steelhead. The panel held that PL 774 expressly authorized Twitchell Dam to be operated for “other purposes” beyond the enumerated purposes. As a secondary priority, PL 774 also required the Agencies operate the dam substantially in accordance with the Secretary’s Report. The statutory requirement of substantial compliance—rather than strict compliance—with the Secretary’s Report explicitly grants discretion to the Agencies to adjust the dam’s flow rate. The panel held that this interpretation is buttressed by the principles of statutory construction. Because PL 774 and the ESA can easily be read to work in harmony, it was the panel’s duty to do so. Here, there is no clear Congressional intent to preclude the dam from being operated to avoid take of Southern California Steelhead. There is no implied conflict between PL 774 and the ESA. Twitchell Dam can readily be operated to provide modest releases at certain times of the year and during certain water years, while still satisfying the dam’s primary purpose of conserving water for consumptive purposes. View "SAN LUIS OBISPO COASTKEEPER, ET AL V. SANTA MARIA VALLEY WATER CONSE, ET AL" on Justia Law