Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court voiding a permit issued by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) allowing the Montana Artesian Water Company (MAWC) to appropriate water, holding that while the DNRC issued its preliminary determination granting MAWC the water use permit based on incomplete data, because the statutory deadline had passed, the application was deemed correct and complete as a matter of law, and DNRC could not require the missing information. DNRC failed to identify defects in the application before the statutory deadline. The district court concluded that DNRC failed to comply with its own rules to determine whether the application was correct and complete and voided the permit without addressing other issues raised on judicial review. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) with or without the missing information, MAWC's application became correct and complete as a matter of law after the statutory deadline had passed; and (2) Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-302(5) forecloses an argument regarding compliance with application requirements the agency imposed by rule. View "Flathead Lakers v. Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the findings of the Water Court in adjudicating two of Twin Creeks's water rights claims, holding that the Water court did not err in finding that Twin Creeks abandoned one claim by nonuse but misapprehended the effect of testimony regarding the second claim's historical use. Five Twin Creeks claims were at issue before the Water Court. After a hearing, the Water Court issued a closing order ordering changes to four of the claims and removing the issue remarks. At issue on appeal were the statements of claim 40B109102-00 (the 102 claim) and 40B109104-00 (the 104 claim). The Supreme Court held (1) the Water Court did not err in finding that the 102 claim was abandoned by nonuse because the intent to abandon occurred concurrently with the nonuse; and (2) the Water Court erred finding that Petrolia Irrigation District did not overcome the presumption that the 104 claim was correct as filed. View "Twin Creeks Farm & Ranch v. Petrolia Irrigation District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Water Court closing certification case, holding that the Water Court did not err in its rulings. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the Water Court did not err (1) in its determination of the water rights claims that had historically used the Gibson-Reinig Ditch and the characteristics of those rights; (2) by creating a junior implied claim to account for the parties' historic use of the capacity of the Gibson-Reinig Ditch; (3) in its determination of the priority date for claim 97014-00; (4) by finding that the unauthorized water use by David and Teri Hoon and Betty and Gary Murphy was irrelevant to the proceedings; and (5) by separately decreeing the interest of Michael and Lisa Bay. View "Hoon v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting the motion to dismiss filed by the City of Bozeman, holding that Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-114 does not provide an implied private right of action for judicial enforcement of the Montana Water Use Act. Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that the City was in violation of the Act due to unpermitted water use and seeking injunctive relief and attorney fees. The City filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that the Act does not create a private right of action for enforcement through injunctive relief, nor does it create a private right of action. The district court granted the City's motion to dismiss, concluding that section 85-2-114, which allows for judicial enforcement of the Act, doesn't support an implied private right of action for enforcement. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the provisions of section 85-2-114 preclude the possibility that the Act provides an implied private right of enforcement of the Act. View "Lyman Creek, LLC v. City of Bozeman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court ruling that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had illegally renewed a permit allowing Western Energy Company to discharge rain and snow water into surrounding ditches and creeks from its Rosebud Coal Mine in Colstrip, Montana, holding that further fact-finding was required. In 2012, DEQ renewed a permit, which was modified in 2014, for Western Energy to discharge pollutants contained in waters that were created by ongoing precipitation-driven events. Plaintiffs brought this action alleging that the DEQ's permit renewal violated the Montana Water Quality Act and federal Clean Water Act. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Montana Board of Environmental Review was not required to make a new stream classification for the Yellowstone River drainage; (2) DEQ can lawfully allow the mine to monitor a sample of the discharges that are representative of the precipitation water being released, but the district court must determine whether those releases are actually representative of the mining and discharge activities that are taking place at the mine; and (3) remand was required to determine whether a "pollutant-impaired stream" should be monitored with a higher environmental standard than the current permit requires. View "Montana Environmental Information Center v. Western Energy Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order entered by the Montana Water Court determining the volume of water to which the City of Fort Peck was entitled pursuant to its Claim 40E 182897-00 in Missouri River Basin between the Musselshell River and Fort Peck Dam, holding that the Water Court did not violate Ford Peck's due process right and that the Water Court's conclusions were correct. On appeal, Fort Peck argued that the Water Court erred by entering conclusions in contradiction to a pretrial order and that its due process rights were violated because it was not provided notice or an opportunity to present evidence concerning current use or abandonment of historical volume. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that Fort Peck had adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard before the Water Court entered its final order, both for purposes of the pretrial order and for due process and that the Water Court's conclusions were without error. View "United States Army Corps of Engineers; City of Fort Peck" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying summary judgment for Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, granting the cross-motions for summary judgment of Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the City of Billings, and affirming DEQ's decision to issue a Montana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (the General Permit), holding that the DEQ's decisions in issuing the General Permit were not unlawful, arbitrary, or capricious. Specifically, the Count held (1) the General Permit complied with public participation requirements; (2) the DEQ's decision to incorporate construction and post-construction storm water pollution controls into the General Permit was not unlawful, arbitrary, or capricious; (3) the DEQ's decision incorporating Total Maximum Daily Loads into the General Permit was not unlawful, arbitrary, or capricious; and (4) DEQ's decision to incorporate pollution monitoring requirements into the General Permit was not unlawful, arbitrary, or capricious. View "Upper Missouri Waterkeeper v. Montana Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Water Court granting the United States Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) motion for summary judgment, holding that the Water Court correctly determined that the BLM was the owner of certain stock claims and correctly affirmed other claims for wildlife use. Specifically, the Court held that the Water Court (1) properly determined that Ron and Maxine Korman forfeited interests claimed for stockwater use in the Chevy and Poker Reservoirs; and (2) did not err when it determined that the wildlife claims at issue were valid and did not expand the original appropriation. View "United States Bureau of Land Management v. Korman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed an April 27, 2016 order of the Montana Water Court adjudicating Teton Cooperative Reservoir Company’s (Teton Reservoir) water rights. The Court held that the Water Court did not err in (1) determining that Teton Reservoir’s 1902 Notice of Appropriation was valid; (2) applying the equitable doctrine of laches to Teton Reservoir’s 1902 Notice of Appropriation; (3) decreeing Teton Reservoir an annual volume totaling 60,000 acre feet for storage in the Bynum Reservoir; and (4) refusing to limit Teton Reservoir’s wintertime diversions to one-half of the available water in the Teton River. View "Teton Cooperative Reservoir Co. v. Farmers Cooperative Canal Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Montana Water Court adjudicating Teton Cooperative Canal Company’s (Teton Canal) water rights on remand from an earlier decision of the Supreme Court. The court held that the Water Court did not commit clear error by (1) apportioning volume limits for Teton Canal’s 1890 water right claims and the junior 1936 Eureka Reservoir claims; (2) removing the Eureka Reservoir as storage under the 1890 notice while allowing the Glendora Reservoir’s storage capacity to be added to the volume limit under the 1890 notice; (3) permitting Teton Canal to store its 1890 direct flow water in the Eureka Reservoir during irrigation season; and (4) allowing Teton Canal a year-round period of diversion for the 1890 notice. View "Teton Coop Canal Co. v. Lower Teton Joint Reservoir Co." on Justia Law