Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Defendants County of Sacramento and the County Board of Supervisors (the County) approved Cordova Hills, a large master planned community comprised of residential and commercial uses and including a university (the Project). Plaintiffs Environmental Council of Sacramento and the Sierra Club (Environmental Council) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the Project, which the trial court denied. Environmental Council appealed, contending the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) contained a legally inadequate project description, an inadequate environmental impact analysis, failed to analyze impacts to land use, and the County failed to adopt feasible mitigation measures. Central to the Environmental Council’s appeal was the contention that the university was not likely to be built, and since the EIR assumed the buildout of a university, it was deficient in failing to analyze the Project without a university. We shall affirm the judgment. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s assessment, that the County, in drafting the EIR, was required to assume all phases of the Project, including the university, would be built. The Court affirmed the trial court in all respects. View "Environmental Council of Sacramento v. County of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the Board's approval of an ordinance to streamline the permitting process for new oil and gas wells and certification of an environmental report (EIR) as compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court found that the EIR inadequately analyzed the project's environmental impacts to rangeland and from a road paving mitigation measure, and rejected the other CEQA claims. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal addressed CEQA violations involving water, agricultural land, and noise. In regard to water supplies, the court held that the mitigation measures for the project's significant impacts to water supplies inappropriately deferred formulation of the measures or delayed the actual implementation of the measures. Furthermore, the EIR's disclosures about the mitigation measures were inadequate and thus the adoption of a statement of overriding considerations did not render harmless these failures to comply with CEQA. The court also held that the project's conversion of agricultural land would be mitigated to a less than significant level is not supported by substantial evidence. Finally, in regard to the project's noise impacts, the court held that the EIR did not include an analysis, supported by substantial evidence, explaining why the magnitude of an increase in ambient noise need not be addressed to determine the significance of the project's noise impact. View "King and Gardiner Farms, LLC v. County of Kern" on Justia Law

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Appellants Baldwin & Sons, Inc.; Baldwin & Sons, LLC; Sunranch Capital Partners, LLC; USA Portola Properties, LLC; Sunrise Pacific Construction; USA Portola East, LLC; USA Portola West, LLC; and SRC-PH Investments, LLC, all appealed an order compelling compliance with administrative subpoenas issued by the State Water Resources Control Board. Appellants were involved (or believed to be involved) in the construction of a large-scale development in the Portola Hills Community in Lake Forest, California. The State Board initiated an investigation into alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act and California's Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act occurring during construction activities. In connection with its investigation, the State Board issued subpoenas seeking Appellants' financial records. When Appellants refused to produce the requested financial records, the State Board sought a court order compelling compliance with the subpoenas. With the exception of tax returns, the trial court concluded that the information sought was relevant to the State Board's investigation and subject to disclosure pursuant to the investigative subpoenas. Appellants argued on appeal: (1) their financial records were not reasonably relevant to the State Board's investigation; (2) compelling production of their financial records violated their right to privacy; and (3) the protective order did not adequately protect against disclosure of their private financial information to third parties. The Court of Appeal rejected these claims and affirmed the challenged order compelling production of the Appellants' financial records subject to a protective order. View "State Water Resources Control Bd. v. Baldwin & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to accurately estimate the amount of Reactive Organic Gas (ROG) emissions and to adopt all feasible mitigation measures. The challenge arises from the approval of a geothermal plant to be located on fedeal land in Mono County, California. Petitioners also claimed the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (District) was not the proper lead agency to undertake preparation of the EIR. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the District was the proper lead agency, and that the permit limiting the daily ROG emissions was sufficient evidence of the amount of the emissions. However, the Court determined the District did not adequately analyze whether the additional mitigation measures proposed by petitioners were feasible to limit ROG emissions. Therefore, the Court reversed the part of the judgment relating to the District’s consideration of the proposed mitigation measures, but affirmed in all other respects. View "Covington v. Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control Dist." on Justia Law

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Defendant the City of Sacramento (City) approved and adopted a 2035 General Plan in March 2015. At the same time, the City certified the environmental impact report (EIR) for the 2035 General Plan in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. Plaintiff Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation (Citizens) filed a petition for writ of mandate and injunctive relief and a complaint for declaratory relief (petition) against the City and its city council seeking to set aside both administrative actions. The trial court denied the petition, upholding both actions; Citizens appealed, challenging the validity of the 2035 General Plan and the EIR. It contends the Court of Appeal should vacate the trial court’s ruling regarding the 2035 General Plan and order the City to rescind its approval thereof because a sentence in the introductory paragraph violated and conflicted with state planning laws. Citizens also argued the Court should do the same as to the EIR because the City’s analyses pertaining to traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, cyclist safety, and the “no project” alternative failed to comply with CEQA, and the City was required to recirculate the EIR after releasing substantial supplemental changes shortly before the city council’s public hearing. Finding no merit in Citizens’s arguments, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation v. City of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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