Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
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Water users and property owners in Flint, Michigan (plaintiffs) brought a class action at the Court of Claims against defendants Governor Rick Snyder, the state of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (the MDEQ), and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (collectively, the state defendants) and against defendants Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose (the city defendants). Plaintiffs alleged the Governor and these officials had knowledge of a 2011 study commissioned by Flint officials that cautioned against the use of Flint River water as a source of drinking water. In 2014, under the direction of Earley and the MDEQ, Flint switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) to the Flint River. Less than a month after the switch, state officials began to receive complaints from Flint water users about the quality of the water coming out of their taps. Plaintiffs alleged state officials failed to take any significant remedial measures to address the growing health threat and instead continued to downplay the health risk, advising Flint water users that it was safe to drink the tap water while simultaneously arranging for state employees in Flint to drink water from water coolers installed in state buildings. The state and city defendants separately moved for summary disposition on all four counts, arguing that plaintiffs had failed to satisfy the statutory notice requirements in MCL 600.6431 of the Court of Claims Act, failed to allege facts to establish a constitutional violation for which a judicially inferred damages remedy was appropriate, and failed to allege facts to establish the elements of any of their claims. The Court of Claims granted defendants’ motions for summary disposition on plaintiffs’ causes of action under the state-created-danger doctrine and the Fair and Just Treatment Clause of the 1963 Michigan Constitution, art 1, section 17, after concluding that neither cause of action was cognizable under Michigan law. However, the Court of Claims denied summary disposition on all of defendants’ remaining grounds, concluding that plaintiffs satisfied the statutory notice requirements and adequately pleaded claims of inverse condemnation and a violation of their right to bodily integrity. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Claims. After hearing oral argument on defendants’ applications, a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court expressly affirmed the Court of Appeals’ conclusion regarding plaintiffs’ inverse-condemnation claim. The Court of Appeals opinion was otherwise affirmed by equal division. View "Mays v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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AK Steel operated a steel mill within the Ford Rouge Manufacturing complex in Dearborn, Michigan. The steel mill was subject to air pollution control and permitting requirements under the federal Clean Air Act, and the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA). South Dearborn Environmental Improvement Association, Inc. (South Dearborn) and several other environmental groups petitioned for judicial review of a decision of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to issue a permit to install (PTI) for an existing source under NREPA. In 2006, the DEQ issued Severstal Dearborn, LLC (the mill's prior owner) a PTI that authorized the rebuilding of a blast furnace and the installation of three air pollution control devices at the steel mill. In the years that followed, the permit was revised twice; each successive permit modified and replaced the preceding permit. Emissions testing performed in 2008 and 2009 revealed that several emission sources at the steel mill exceeded the level permitted. The DEQ sent Severstal a notice of violation, and after extended negotiations, they entered into an agreement, pursuant to which Severstal submitted an application for PTI 182- 05C, the PTI at issue in this case. The DEQ issued the permit on May 12, 2014, stating that the purpose of PTI 182-05C was to correct inaccurate assumptions about preexisting and projected emissions and to reallocate emissions among certain pollution sources covered by the PTI. On July 10, 2014, 59 days after PTI 182-05C was issued, South Dearborn and several other environmental groups appealed the DEQ’s decision in the circuit court. The issue for the Michigan Supreme Court's review reduced to how long an interested party has to file a petition for judicial review of a DEQ decision to issue a permit for an existing source of air pollution. The Supreme Court held MCL 324.5505(8) and MCL 324.5506(14) provided that such a petition must be filed within 90 days of the DEQ’s final permit action. Therefore, the circuit court correctly denied AK Steel Corporation’s motion to dismiss pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(1) because the petition for judicial review was timely filed 59 days after the final permit action in this case. View "South Dearborn Environmental Improvement Assn. v. Dept. of Env. Quality" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a municipality such as a township could be held responsible under MCL 324.3109(2) of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA)1 for raw sewage discharged into state waters by private citizens within the township's borders. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that under NREPA, a municipality can be held responsible for, and required to prevent, the discharge when the raw sewage originates within its borders, even when the raw sewage is discharged by a private party and not directly discharged by the municipality itself. The Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals because it interpreted MCL 324.3109(2) in a manner that precluded a municipality from being held responsible for such a discharge. The case was remanded to the Court of Appeals to address remaining arguments made on appeal. View "Dept. of Env. Quality v. Worth Twnsp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Beverly Duffy was injured while riding an off-road vehicle on a trail owned by the State and maintained by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Plaintiff sued both entities, and throughout the litigation brought various theories in an attempt to avoid the grant of governmental immunity to Defendants under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). In the lower courts, Plaintiff argued that Defendant ad a duty to keep the trail in reasonable repair under the "highway exception" to governmental immunity because the trial falls within the statutory definition of "highway." On appeal to the Supreme Court, Plaintiff argued that the Court should rule that the trail is either a "forest road" or "road" under the GTLA and that the trail falls under the "highway exception." The Court noted that the issue that belies this case is one of first impression. Upon review of state case law and the case record from the lower courts, the Supreme Court concluded that the trail is not a "highway" under Michigan law. Instead, the Court classified it as a "trailway": "all roads, forest roads, trails, trailways and highways in this case lead to the conclusion that Plaintiff's claim is barred by governmental immunity." The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision that dismissed Plaintiff's case.