Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Petitioner Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) appealed an order of the New Hampshire Waste Management Council (Council) denying CLF’s appeal of a permit, issued by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES), which authorized the expansion of a landfill owned by respondent Waste Management of New Hampshire, Inc. (WMNH). CLF argued the Council erred in: (1) determining DES acted reasonably in granting the permit despite finding that a condition therein was ambiguous; and (2) premising its decision on the occurrence of future negotiations between DES and WMNH to resolve the ambiguity. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed, finding the permit’s ambiguities did not render the Council’s decision unlawful. View "Appeal of Conservation Law Foundation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Denis Girard and Florence Leduc appealed a superior court order upholding a decision of the Town of Plymouth Planning Board denying their subdivision application. They argued the trial court erred in upholding the planning board’s denial of their application because: (1) the board “engaged in impermissible ad hoc rule” and “decision making” when it relied upon an “overly broad” subdivision regulation; (2) the board relied on a subdivision regulation that did not specifically authorize the board to regulate wetlands; (3) the board’s regulation of wetlands is preempted by State statute; (4) the trial court unreasonably relied on certain evidence provided by a wetlands scientist; (5) the board’s decision to reject the application based upon the proposed subdivision’s impact on the wetlands was unreasonable; and (6) the board violated New Hampshire law by discussing the application at a hearing without notice to the applicants or the public. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Girard v. Town of Plymouth" on Justia Law

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The Town of Lincoln, New Hampshire, appealed a Water Court order upholding a decision by the Department of Environmental Services (DES) ordering the town to repair the Pemigewasset River Levee. The Water Counsel determined the Town owned the levee pursuant to RSA 482:11-a(2013), and therefore was obligated to maintain and repair the levee. In support of its position, DES contends that, in the Assurance, the Town “agreed to take responsibility for the [l]evee’s ongoing maintenance and repair.”1 However, the fact that the Town undertook certain maintenance obligations in the Assurance does not mean that the additional obligations of “ownership” under RSA 482:11-a can or should be imposed upon the Town. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that the Water Council’s conclusion the Town “owned” the levee under RSA 482:11-a was dependent on flawed reasoning that Appeal of Michele, 168 N.H. 98 (2015) controlled the outcome of this case. The Supreme Court concluded the Town met its burden to show the Water Council was unreasonable. The Court did not decide the precise degree of ownership that made a person or entity an “owner” for the purposes of RSA 482:11-a, it held that the limited access easement held by the Town in this case fell short of that threshold. Because the Court’s holding on this issue was dispositive of this case, it declined to address the parties’ other arguments. View "Appeal of Town of Lincoln" on Justia Law

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This case presented two questions arising out of the operation of the Suncook Wastewater Treatment Facility (the “Facility”) in Allenstown, New Hampshire, for the New Hampshire Supreme Court's review. First, under an intermunicipal agreement, must defendant Town of Allenstown, share any of the profits generated from septage haulers who discharge their waste at the Facility with the plaintiff, Town of Pembroke? And second, after Allenstown used a portion of those profits to increase the Facility’s wastewater treatment capacity, must Allenstown allocate any of that increased capacity to Pembroke? Because the Supreme Court, as did the Superior Court, answered both questions “no,” the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Town of Pembroke v. Town of Allenstown" on Justia Law

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Petitioner N. Miles Cook, III, appealed a Wetlands Council (Council) ruling upholding the decision of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) denying his request for a permit to reconstruct and extend his dock on the Piscataqua River. Because DES did not have the benefit of the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s interpretation of the term “need” as used in Env-Wt 302.01(a) and Env-Wt 302.04(a)(1) for determining whether an applicant has met the permit requirements, and because, as the Council noted, the central issue was whether petitioner “could justify the expanded dock proposal based on his ‘need’ to access navigable water on a more frequent basis than he currently experiences with the existing dock,” the Supreme Court vacated DES’s decision and remanded to the Council with instructions to remand to DES for further consideration in light of the definition the Court adopted for the purposes of this opinion. View "Appeal of N. Miles Cook, III" on Justia Law

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required that owners of underground storage tanks demonstrate their ability to pay cleanup costs and compensate third parties for bodily injury and property damage arising out of releases of petroleum products from their tanks. New Hampshire’s Oil Discharge and Disposal Cleanup Fund (ODD Fund) was an EPA-approved program that complied with the federal requirement. In 2003, the State sued several gasoline suppliers, refiners, and chemical manufacturers seeking damages for groundwater contamination allegedly caused by methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). In 2012, petitioners sought a declaratory judgment and equitable relief against the State. Each petitioner was a “distributor” of oil under RSA chapter 146-D and paid fees into the ODD Fund. They alleged that “[t]o date, the costs of MTBE remediation in the State of New Hampshire has been paid for primarily through” the ODD Fund, and that that fund was financed, in part, through fees that they paid. Petitioners sought a declaration that those fees “are unconstitutional as the [State] has recovered and/or will recover funds from the MTBE Lawsuit for the cost of MTBE remediation,” and that those fees should be reimbursed to them from: (1) “the settlement proceeds the [State] has received and will receive through the MTBE Litigation”; (2) “any future recovery the [State] receives through the MTBE Litigation”; and (3) “[a]dditionally, or in the alternative, . . . from the funds recovered, and/or to be recovered in the future in the MTBE Litigation, . . . under principles of equitable subrogation and/or unjust enrichment.” On appeal, the petitioners argue that the trial court erred in ruling that they lacked standing to seek reimbursement of their fees from the settlement funds. They also argued that the trial court erred in ruling that their equitable claims are barred by sovereign immunity. Find View "Aranosian Oil Co., Inc. v. New Hampshire" on Justia Law

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Respondents New Hampshire Fish & Game and the New Hampshire Council on Resources and Defelopment (CORD) appealed a superior court decision that granted summary judgment to petitioners Town of Newbury and Lake Sunapee Protective Association. Petitioners challenged CORD's decision to approve Fish & Game's design of a boat launch. The trial court held that CORD lacked authority to approve the launch because it was a class III public highway, and could not approve "new highway projects." Disagreeing with the trial court's interpretation of RSA 162-C:6, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Town of Newbury v. New Hampshire Fish & Game Dept." on Justia Law

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Petitioners Town of Newbury and Lake Sunapee Protective Association appealed a Wetlands Council decision. The Council upheld a grant by the Department of Environmental Services of a shoreland impact permit to respondent New Hampshire Fish & Game for the construction of a public boat launch with associated parking on the shore of Lake Sunapee. Petitioners contended it was error to uphold the Department's decision because the Department had violated two provisions of the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act with an unnecessary launch contrary to state law. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Lake Sunapee Protective Association" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Thomas Morrissey, Margaret Russell, Dorothy Sears, Reginald Rogers, Barbara Sanders and others appealed a ruling of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) Wetlands Council (Council) that affirmed the issuance by the Wetlands Bureau of a permit to respondent Town of Lynne. Petitioners argued that when issuing the wetlands permit, the Bureau and Council did not consider the total wetlands impact of the proposed project because they misinterpreted the scope of the Supreme Court's ruling in an earlier case. Agreeing that the Bureau misinterpreted the applicable statutes, and it did not consider the total wetlands impact of the proposed project, the Supreme Court vacated DES' decision and remanded the case to the Council for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Thomas Morrissey" on Justia Law

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In this declaratory judgment proceeding, the defendant, Citizens Insurance Company of America, appealed a superior court order which ruled in favor of the plaintiff, The Barking Dog, Ltd., which operates a dog kennel and grooming business at several locations in New Hampshire. The court ruled that an insurance policy issued by the defendant provided coverage for damage to the plaintiff’s septic system and ordered the defendant to pay the plaintiff $20,000, the agreed upon damage amount. The court also ruled that the defendant was not prejudiced by the plaintiff’s failure to disclose its expert’s report in a timely manner or its failure to disclose its expert’s curriculum vitae and, accordingly, permitted the plaintiff’s expert to testify at trial. The defendant argued that both rulings were error. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "The Barking Dog, Ltd. v. Citizens Insurance Company of America" on Justia Law