Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries
Articles Posted in Pennsylvania Supreme Court
This case stemmed from the underground leaking of gasoline from a gasoline station in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, which caused an explosion in the springhouse of a realty office situated across the street. Many thousands of gallons moved underground throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. Pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 2229(a), 45 affected individuals filed a single complaint against six defendants, alleging that gasoline and vapor from the leak had traveled underground, through soil and groundwater, and had reached and entered their homes, causing property damage to their homes and illness to those living there. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the Superior Court erred in holding that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering a separate trial of the claims of four test-case, or “bellwether” plaintiffs, from among the 45 plaintiffs. The Court concluded that the Superior Court erred. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that the Superior Court erred in determining that the trial court abused its discretion in severing the claims in the interest of convenience and judicial economy. The order of the Superior Court was reversed and the jury verdict was reinstated. View "Ball, et al v. Bayard Pump Co." on Justia Law
The issue before the Supreme Court pertained to the Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act and whether it preempted a provision in a local zoning ordinance that established a setback for mining activities from all residential structures. The zoning ordinance at issue, which was enacted by Adams Township in Cambria County after the effective date of the Surface Mining Act, permits mining activities in a district known as the Conservancy (S) District only by special exception. Hoffman Mining Company, Inc. (Hoffman Mining) sought to mine for coal on a 182.1-acre tract of land within the Adams Township Conservancy (S) District adjacent to the Village of Mine 42. Hoffman Mining requested a special exception mine which was denied by the Zoning Board. Hoffman Mining appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed the Zoning Board's denial. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that with enactment of the Surface Mining Act, the General Assembly did not expressly or impliedly preempt a local zoning ordinance that imposes a residential setback from mining activities. The Court did "not discern an intent of the General Assembly to completely deprive local zoning authorities of their MPC-enabled authority and responsibility for land use management and planning as applied to the location and siting of surface mining in their municipalities." Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Hoffman Mining Co., v. Zoning Hearing Board of Adams Twp." on Justia Law
Posted in: Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law, Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
Cromwell Township appealed a Commonwealth Court's order that sentenced its supervisors to three to six months' imprisonment for contempt. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had approved the Township's comprehensive plan for sewage services, but the Township decided the Plan was too expensive to implement. Despite requesting several extensions of time, the Township failed to implement its plan. At the time, the Orbisonia Rockhill Joint Municipal Authority (ORJMA) which operated public sewage systems including those within the Township, was experiencing an overload in its wastewater treatment plant. The Township Board of Supervisors approached ORJMA and proposed a joint venture that would increase the capacity of ORJMA's plant and simultaneously decrease the anticipated cost to the Township for sewage treatment. The Township submitted an amended Plan which was accepted by the DEP. But prior to implementing the Plan, the Township Board elected new members. New members who openly opposed the Plan repealed the ordinances required under the amended Plan. The Township then stopped cooperating. The DEP filed suit to enforce the Plan asking that fines be levied against Board members and to set a timeline to purge the contempt. The court, unsatisfied with the Township's efforts to purge the contempt sentenced its members to jail time. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the Township's failing to timely appeal the Plan and its amendment when new supervisors took office meant that the DEP's act was final, and the Township was foreclosed from challenging the Plan. However, the Court found that the Commonwealth Court's failing to use less restrictive means prior to imposing prison sentences on Board members compelled reversal: "the Commonwealth Court had lesser alternatives available to it in its attempt to compel Township's compliance with the court's prior order… but the Commonwealth Court inexplicably refused." The Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's order sentencing Township Board members to imprisonment, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Pa. Dept. of Environ. Prot. v. Cromwell Twp." on Justia Law
Posted in: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law, Pennsylvania Supreme Court
In 2008, a Pennsylvania Game Commission Officer found Appellant Mark Clegg in possession of two rifles during a hunting incident. Appellant had a prior conviction of attempted burglary. In addition to various summary violations under the Game and Wildlife Code, the Commonwealth charged Appellant with violation of the Uniform Firearms Act. The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court was whether attempted burglary is a "qualifying offense" that prohibits an individual from possessing a firearm under the Act. Upon review of the plain meaning of the Act, the Supreme Court found that attempted burglary is not one of the enumerated offenses under the Act, and as such, was not a "qualifying" offense for which Appellant could be charged in this case. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision to dismiss Appellant's charge under the Act.