Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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
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
Council for Education and Research etc. v. Starbucks Corp.
The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) brought these actions under Proposition 65 (Prop. 65) against Respondents, dozens of companies that roast, distribute, or sell coffee. CERT claimed that Respondents had failed to provide required Prop. 65 warnings for their coffee products based on the presence of acrylamide. While the litigation was pending, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (the Agency) adopted a new regulation providing that “exposures to chemicals in coffee, listed on or before March 15, 2019, as known to the state to cause cancer, that are created by and inherent in the processes of roasting coffee beans or brewing coffee do not pose a significant risk of cancer.” CERT moved for summary adjudication, challenging the regulation’s validity on various grounds. In opposing summary judgment, CERT also contended that regardless of the regulation, triable issues remained regarding the presence of acrylamide resulting from additives. CERT challenged the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for Respondents, its denial of its motion for fees, and its award of section 998. The Second Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s orders granting summary judgment and denying attorney fees. The court reversed the order denying CERT’s motion to tax costs. The court explained that Respondents’ assertion ignores claims beyond the scope of CERT’s actions that were to be released under the offers. Given that the proposed releases in section 998 offers covered this and other potential claims, the trial court could not have determined that the offers were more favorable than the judgment. Thus, the offers were invalid for purposes of section 998. View "Council for Education and Research etc. v. Starbucks Corp." on Justia Law
G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks
G.I. Industries, doing business as Waste Management (WM), provided solid waste management for the City of Thousand Oaks (City). The City was considering entering into a new exclusive solid waste franchise agreement with Arakelian Enterprises, Inc. doing business as Athens Services (Athens). A supplemental item was posted giving notice of the staff’s recommendation that the City find the agreement to be exempt from CEQA. Prior to the commencement of litigation under the Brown Act, WM sent the City a “cure and correct” letter. WM petitioned the trial court for a writ of mandate directing the City to vacate both its approval of the franchise agreement and its finding that the project is exempt from CEQA. Athens was joined as the real party in interest. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. The court agreed with WM that the CEQA exemption is an item of business separate from the approval of the franchise agreement. The court also concluded that the Brown Act does not apply. The Second Appellate District reversed the finding that the trial court erred when it entered judgment. Section 54954.2 of the Brown Act, requires this CEQA finding of exemption to be listed on the agency’s agenda for its public meeting. The purpose of section 54960.1, subdivision (b) is to give the local agency notice of an alleged violation of the Brown Act so that it can avoid litigation by curing the violation. Here, the City council voted that the project is exempt, without the public notice required by the Brown Act. WM’s cure and correct letter adequately stated that point. View "G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks" on Justia Law
Athletics Investment Group, LLC v. Department of Toxic Substances Control
For almost 60 years, Schnitzer has operated a scrap-metal shredding and recycling facility. The Department of Toxic Substances Control acquired regulatory authority over metal-shredding facilities in the 1980s and issued Schnitzer certification under Code of Regulations, title 22, section 66260.200 2 (an (f) letter)--a conditional nonhazardous waste classification, allowing Schnitzer to handle and dispose of its treated metal-shredder waste as nonhazardous although the material otherwise meets the state’s definition of hazardous waste. In 2014, the Hazardous Waste Control Law (HWCL) Health & Safety Code 25150.82, specifically addressed metal-shredding facilities.The trial court concluded that section 25150.82 imposed a mandatory duty on the Department to rescind the (f) letters, such that Schnitzer must handle its treated metal-shredder waste as hazardous. The court of appeal reversed. After the adoption of section 25150.82, the Department commissioned a study, addressing environmental problems associated with metal shredding. Based on that study, the Department initiated regulatory actions aimed at metal-shredding facilities and their untreated waste. Metal shredders must comply with the HWCL but the study confirmed that once metal-shredding waste has been appropriately treated, it can be safely handled and disposed of as non-hazardous. Schnitzer’s (f) letter authorizing this practice was issued under an HWCL regulation, and there is no basis for concluding it does not comply with the HWCL. View "Athletics Investment Group, LLC v. Department of Toxic Substances Control" on Justia Law
Environmental Health Advocates, Inc. v. Sream, Inc.
Sream manufactures water pipes (bongs). According to Sream, its packaging and labels have long included the statement that such products “should be sold, marketed or used for legal, non-prohibited use only.” Since July 2020, Sream has also placed the following label on its products as a “purely defensive” measure: “WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including arsenic, which is known ... to cause cancer."EHA filed a private enforcement action, alleging Sream had failed to provide a warning that its products exposed consumers to marijuana smoke in violation of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (Health & Safety Code, 25249.5, “Proposition 65”). Section 25249.6 provides: “No person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual.” “Marijuana smoke” was added to the list of carcinogens in 2009.The trial court granted Sream judgment on the pleadings, finding EHA had not alleged that Sream’s products require marijuana to function or can only be used with marijuana. The court of appeal affirmed. EHA does not allege direct contact, but instead that individuals “may be exposed to marijuana smoke” if they use Sream’s water pipes with marijuana. Requiring a warning for possible indirect contact, depending on how a consumer chooses to use the product, would introduce confusion into that decision-making process. View "Environmental Health Advocates, Inc. v. Sream, Inc." on Justia Law
County of Mono v. City of Los Angeles
The City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Board of Commissioners (collectively, Los Angeles) appealed a trial court judgment granting the petition of Mono County and the Sierra Club (collectively, Mono County) for a writ of mandate directing Los Angeles to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) before curtailing or reducing deliveries of irrigation water to certain lands Los Angeles leased to agricultural operators in Mono County. The trial court ruled that Los Angeles implemented a project in 2018 without complying with CEQA when: (1) it proposed new leases to the lessees that would not provide or allow water to be used for irrigation; and (2) while claiming it would study the environmental effects of the new leases, it nonetheless implemented that policy of reducing water for irrigation by allocating less water than usual under the prior leases that were still in effect. Los Angeles did not dispute that it was required to engage in CEQA analysis before implementing the new proposed leases, and it noted it issued a notice that it was undertaking environmental review of those new leases. But it argued that its 2018 water allocation was not part of that project and instead part of an earlier project, and the limitations period for challenging the earlier project has run. The Court of Appeal agreed with Los Angeles, the trial court's judgment was reversed. View "County of Mono v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law
Parkford Owners for a Better Community v. Windeshausen
This case was the second appeal arising out of a dispute over the operation of a commercial self-storage facility (Treelake Storage) within a planned unit development in Granite Bay (Treelake Village). Silversword Properties, LLC (Silversword) owned the property upon which K.H. Moss Company and Moss Equity (collectively, Moss) operated Treelake Storage. In a separate but related lawsuit filed in 2017, Parkford Owners for a Better Community (Parkford) challenged Placer County’s (County) issuance of a building permit for the construction of an expansion of Treelake Storage, arguing that the County failed to comply with both the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Planning and Zoning Law. The trial court concluded: (1) the County’s issuance of the building permit was ministerial rather than discretionary, and therefore CEQA did not apply; and (2) Parkford’s challenge under the Planning and Zoning Law was barred by the statute of limitations. Parkford appealed. In August 2020, a different panel of the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, concluding that completion of the challenged expansion of Treelake Storage prior to entry of judgment rendered moot Parkford’s challenge to the County’s issuance of a building permit authorizing construction of the expansion. In June 2021, the trial court concluded that the lawsuit here, filed by Parkford in 2018 and challenged the County’s issuance of a business license for the operation of Treelake Storage, was barred by both aspects of the doctrine of res judicata--claim and issue preclusion. The Court of Appeal concluded “Parkford I” was not a final judgment “on the merits,” therefore res judicata did not operate to bar this suit. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Parkford Owners for a Better Community v. Windeshausen" on Justia Law
Committee for Sound Water & Land Development v. City of Seaside
In 2017, Bakewell submitted applications regarding its proposed development of "Campus Town," on approximately 122 acres of the former Fort Ord military base. The City of Seaside certified an environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code section 21000, and approved the project. After holding a public hearing, the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) determined that the project was consistent with the Fort Ord Reuse Plan. A nonprofit organization filed a petition for a writ of mandate, alleging that the Campus Town EIR violated CEQA and that FORA’s failure to provide the Committee with notices of the consistency hearing for the project violated the Committee’s right to due process. Bakewell argued that the CEQA causes of action were time-barred and the due process cause of action was moot.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of all claims. Under Emergency rule 9(b) the last day for the Committee to file its petition asserting CEQA causes of action was August 4, 2020; it was not filed until September 1, 2020. there is currently no requirement that development projects proposed for the former Fort Ord military base be consistent with the Fort Ord Reuse Plan, so the due process claim is moot. View "Committee for Sound Water & Land Development v. City of Seaside" on Justia Law
Almond Alliance of Cal. v. Fish and Game Com.
In October 2018, several public interest groups petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to list four species of bumble bee as endangered species: the Crotch bumble bee, the Franklin bumble bee, the Suckley cuckoo bumble bee, and the Western bumble bee. In September 2019, petitioners challenged the Commission’s decision by filing a petition for writ of administrative mandate, asserting that the Commission’s determination that the four bumble bee species qualified for listing as candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act “violated the Commission’s legal duty, was a clear legal error, and was an abuse of discretion.” The trial court granted the writ petition. Because the Court of Appeal’s task in this appeal was to “review the Commission’s decision [designating the four bumble bee species in question as candidate species under the Act], rather than the trial court’s decision [granting the writ petition],” the Court focused on the trial court’s conclusion “the word ‘invertebrates’ as it appears in [s]ection 45’s definition of ‘fish’ clearly denotes invertebrates connected to a marine habitat, not insects such as bumble bees.” To this end, the Court of Appeal concluded a liberal interpretation of the Act, supported by the legislative history and the express language in section 2067 that a terrestrial mollusk and invertebrate was a threatened species “(express language we cannot ignore),” was that fish defined in section 45, as a term of art, was not limited solely to aquatic species. Accordingly, a terrestrial invertebrate, like each of the four bumble bee species, could be listed as an endangered or threatened species under the Act. Judgment was reversed. View "Almond Alliance of Cal. v. Fish and Game Com." on Justia Law