Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Ex parte Kaleen Rugs, Inc.
Mandamus petitions before the Alabama Supreme Court presented a question of whether the Cherokee Circuit Court and the Etowah Circuit Court (collectively, "the trial courts") could properly exercise personal jurisdiction over the petitioners, out-of-state companies (collectively, the defendants) in actions filed against them by the Water Works and Sewer Board of the Town of Centre ("Centre Water") and the Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Gadsden ("Gadsden Water"). Centre Water and Gadsden Water alleged the defendants discharged toxic chemicals into industrial wastewater from their plants in Georgia, which subsequently contaminated Centre Water's and Gadsden Water's downstream water sources in Alabama. After moving unsuccessfully in the trial courts to have the actions against them dismissed, the defendants filed petitions for writs of mandamus seeking orders from the Alabama Supreme Court directing the trial courts to dismiss the actions against them based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court consolidated all the petitions for the purpose of issuing one opinion. Because Indian Summer, Kaleen, and Milliken made a prima facie showing that the trial courts lacked specific personal jurisdiction and Centre Water and Gadsden Water failed to produce any evidence to contradict that showing, the trial courts should have granted their motions to dismiss. Indian Summer, Kaleen, and Milliken have, therefore, demonstrated a clear legal right to the relief sought –- dismissal of Gadsden Water's and Centre Water's complaints against them –- and the petitions for a writ of mandamus in case nos. 1170887, 1171197, and 1171199 were granted. The Supreme Court concluded the trial courts could exercise specific personal jurisdiction over the remaining defendants, and that the remaining defendants did not demonstrated a clear legal right to relief at this stage. View "Ex parte Kaleen Rugs, Inc." on Justia Law
Ex parte GASP.
GASP, an Alabama nonprofit corporation, filed a petition for certiorari review by the Alabama Supreme Court to challenge a Court of Civil Appeals decision. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the Montgomery Circuit Court's dismissal of GASP's petition challenging a decision of the Jefferson County Board of Health ("the Board") to amend its rules under the under the Alabama Air Pollution Control Act of 1971, section 22-28-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the Air Control Act"). The Supreme Court granted GASP's petition for a writ of certiorari in order to evaluate, among other things, whether the Court of Civil Appeals correctly concluded that the rule-making procedures of the Air Control Act preempted any other rule-making procedures potentially applicable to the Board, particularly the rule-making procedures of the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act, section 41-22-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the AAPA"). The Supreme Court determined the Court of Civil Appeals erred in concluding that the Air Control Act preempted the administrative procedures provided in the AAPA. However, the Board was not an "agency" of the State as defined in section 41-22-3(1), Ala. Code 1975, of the AAPA, and therefore the Board was not subject to the procedural requirements of the AAPA. Thus, although the Supreme Court relied on different rationale than the Court of Civil Appeals, that court's judgment affirming the judgment of the circuit court was nevertheless affirmed. View "Ex parte GASP." on Justia Law
Ex parte Advanced Disposal Services South, LLC, et al.
Advanced Disposal Services South, LLC; Advanced Disposal Services Alabama Holdings, LLC; Tallassee Waste Disposal Center, Inc.; Advanced Disposal Services, Inc.; and Stone's Throw Landfill, LLC (collectively, "Advanced Disposal"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court either to join the City of Tallassee ("the City") as a necessary and indispensable party to the underlying action filed by Jerry Tarver, Sr., or, alternatively, to dismiss the action in its entirety, pursuant to Rule 19, Ala. R. Civ. P. The Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ, making no determination whether joinder would be feasible or whether the City was an indispensable party. Tarver filed an application for rehearing, arguing in its September 28, 2018 opinion, the Supreme Court "recast" his claims to reach the conclusion that the City was a necessary party to this action. He argued that the Court's reasoning on original submission was dependent on the notion that he sought to address the whole of the effluent the City discharges into the Tallapoosa River ("the river") when, he claimed, he sought to enjoin only the quantity of the leachate Advanced Disposal deposited into the City's stabilization pond. Tarver then argued that not only did the Court's analysis depend on a recasting of his claims, but the Court also relied on facts not before the circuit court in support of that recasting, namely, "facts as to the percentage of the effluent attributable to [Advanced Disposal's] leachate compared to the percentage of the effluent attributable to other sources." In overruling Tarver's application, the Supreme Court held Tarver's arguments misapprehended its opinion; the figures cited in note 5 of the opinion on original submission were consistent with the allegations in the complaint that the stabilization pond treats "substantial amounts" of waste from parties other than Advanced Disposal. View "Ex parte Advanced Disposal Services South, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
Alabama v. Volkswagen AG
The State appealed a circuit court order that, among other things, dismissed its claims against Volkswagen AG ("VWAG"). The State had filed a complaint claiming VWAG and other defendants, violated the Alabama Environmental Management Act ("the AEMA"), and the Alabama Air Pollution Control Act of 1971 ("the AAPCA") when cars VWAG produced had "defeat devices" installed, designed to alter emissions readings on cars with diesel engines. In other words, the complaint alleged defendants had tampered with the emission-control systems or ordered third parties to tamper with the emission-control systems of vehicles that were licensed and registered in the State of Alabama. Giving its reasons for dismissal, the Supreme Court determined that given the unique factual situation involved in this case, and based on reasoning set by the multi-district litigation court, allowing the State to proceed would "stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Therefore, the trial court properly granted VWAG's motion to dismiss. View "Alabama v. Volkswagen AG" on Justia Law
Ex parte Utilities Board of the City of Tuskegee.
In May 2017, Jerry Tarver, Sr., sued the Utilities Board of the City of Tuskegee ("UBT") and numerous other defendants seeking damages based on alleged exposure to contaminated water purportedly caused by defendants' combined and concurring negligence. The UBT petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Macon Circuit Court to vacate its December 2017 order disqualifying UBT's retained counsel, Huie, Fernambucq & Steward, LLP (the Huie Firm) from representing it in Tarver's suit. The Supreme Court determined Tarver did not present evidence indicating that a Huie firm lawyer, in his capacity as a commissioner of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, was a conflict of interest regarding the attorney's representation of UBT. Therefore, the attorney was not disqualified under Rule 1.11(a), Ala. R. Prof. Cond., and no disqualification could be imputed to the Huie firm. View "Ex parte Utilities Board of the City of Tuskegee." on Justia Law
Ex parte Advanced Disposal Services South, LLC, et al.
Defendants collectively referred to as "Advanced Disposal" petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief to direct the circuit court to either join the City of Tallassee as a necessary and indispensable party, or dismiss this suit entirely. Advanced Disposal entered into an "Agreement for Acceptance and Treatment of Leachate" with the City ("the agreement") in which the City agreed to accept and treat, for a fee, leachate from Advanced Disposal's landfill. After the City accepts title to the leachate, it treats the leachate with chlorine at its stabilization pond. The City then discharges the effluent into the Tallapoosa River ("the river") pursuant to a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit ("the NPDES permit"). The effluent mixes with the river water, which flows several miles downstream to the intake point for the Utilities Board of Tuskegee ("the utilities board"), which treats the river water with chlorine and uses other methods to prepare the water for consumption by its consumers, including the plaintiff, Jerry Tarver, Sr. In May 2017, Tarver sued Advanced Disposal, the utilities board, and fictitiously named defendants seeking monetary damages as well as injunctive relief for exposure to allegedly contaminated water that had been illegally "discharged" into the river and ultimately sold by the utilities board for consumption by its customers. Although the Supreme Court concluded the City was a necessary party to Tarver's action, it could not determine whether its joinder is feasible, insofar as the City, once joined, might object to venue in Macon County. Accordingly, the Court issued the writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to join the City as a necessary party under Rule 19(a). If the City, once joined, objects to venue, Rule 19(a) requires the trial court to dismiss it from the action and then proceed under Rule 19(b) to determine, in accordance with the stated factors, "whether in equity and good conscience the action should proceed among the parties before it, or should be dismissed, the [City] being thus regarded as indispensable." View "Ex parte Advanced Disposal Services South, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
Portersville Bay Oyster Company, LLC v. Blankenship
Portersville Bay Oyster Company, LLC ("the Oyster Company"), and its members, filed suit against 4H Construction Corporation, Greystone Industries, LLC, and Christopher Blankenship, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the trial court's order dismissing Commissioner Blankenship as a defendant in this action. Tensaw Land & Timber Company, Inc. ("Tensaw"), owned land fronting on Portersville Bay which it leased its statutory right to grow and to harvest oysters on the bottom in Portersville Bay to the Oyster Company. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources ("the Department") grants shellfish aquaculture easements on state-owned submerged lands for the purpose of cultivating and harvesting shellfish, including oysters. The Department conveyed to the Corneliuses a shellfish aquaculture easement allowing them to raise oysters in cages above the area encompassed by one of the Tensaw leases. Subject to certain exceptions, the riparian landowner does not have the right to harvest oysters in elevated cages within 600 yards from the shoreline in front of the waterfront property; the shellfish aquaculture easement enables the oyster farmers to grow oysters in elevated cages in the area of the easement. The oysters grown elsewhere on the Tensaw leases were grown on the bottom. 4H Construction Corporation contracted with the Department to construct a breakwater and marsh for coastal protection in Mobile Bay ("the Marsh Island project"). According to the allegations of the complaint, the sediment and silt deposits have increased over time and are killing the oysters being farmed on those oyster beds. The Oyster Company sued the Commissioner alleging negligence and nuisance relating to the easement. The Commissioner moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim and improper venue; the trial court granted the motion to transfer but not the motion to dismiss. After filing an amended complaint, the trial court dismissed the amended complaint against the Commissioner. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that dismissal was made in error, and reversed the trial court's order. View "Portersville Bay Oyster Company, LLC v. Blankenship" on Justia Law
Alabama River Group, Inc. v. Conecuh Timber, Inc. et al
Conecuh Timber, Inc., Ayres Forestry, Inc., BAR Forest Products, LLC, Dry Creek Loggers, Inc., Pea River Timber Company, Inc., Pineville Timber Co., LLC, and THE Timber Company, LLC ("TTC") (collectively referred to as "the wood dealers"), sued Alabama River Group, Inc. ("ARG"), and ARG's chairman and chief executive officer George Landegger, asserting various claims arising from transactions between the wood dealers and ARG's predecessors; the transactions were affected by a short-lived subsidy program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency ("the FSA") known as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program ("BCAP"). Following a jury trial, a judgment was entered against the ARG defendants awarding the wood dealers $1,092,692.71 in compensatory damages and $7,000,000 in punitive damages. The trial court reduced the punitive-damages award by virtue of the statutory cap in section 6- 11-21, Ala. Code 1975, resulting in a total judgment of $6,395,489.37. The ARG defendants filed post-trial motions, which, after a hearing, the trial court denied. The ARG defendants appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment as to liability and compensatory damages. The Court affirmed the punitive damages awarded to Dry Creek Loggers, Inc., and to Conecuh Timber, Inc. With respect to the punitive-damages awards of the remaining wood dealers, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed on the condition that those wood dealers file a remittitur of the punitive-damages awards to a 3:1 ratio to the Supreme Court. Should any wood dealer fail to timely file the respective remittitur, the judgment as to that wood dealer would be reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial. View "Alabama River Group, Inc. v. Conecuh Timber, Inc. et al" on Justia Law
Breland v. City of Fairhope
Charles Breland, Jr., and Breland Corporation (collectively, "Breland") appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the City of Fairhope in Breland's declaratory action based on alleged negligent conduct by Fairhope in relation to real property owned by Breland. In 2000, Breland filed applications for permits and certifications from the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management ("ADEM") in order to fill approximately 10.5 acres of wetlands on the property. Fairhope opposed the fill project. Breland purchased the mitigation credits required by the Corps permit, and hired engineers and consultants for the project sometime before he began actual filling activity. Eight years later, actual work on the fill project began, but the City issued a stop-work order that halted operations. Because his Corps permit would expire in late 2008, Breland sued Fairhope for declaratory relief and an injunction against the effects of multiple City ordinances passed in attempts to stop Breland's work. Fairhope moved to dismiss the complaint. Charles Breland testified that he dismissed his lawsuit against Fairhope when both his Corps permit had been extended (to 2013), and that "there [were] conversations that the city [initiated] about buying the property." According to Breland, by late 2011, he got the impression that Fairhope had been negotiating with him to buy the remainder of the property under false pretenses and that Fairhope actually was trying to delay Breland from resuming the fill project until the Corps permit expired. In early 2013, Breland sued again seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Fairhope's attempts to stop the fill project. The trial court dismissed Breland's case on statute of limitations grounds. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that each time Fairhope enforced its ordinances to stop Breland from filling activity on his property, Fairhope committed a new act that served as a basis for a new claim. Fairhope's last stop-work order was issued in November 2011; Breland filed this action on August 7, 2013. Accordingly, the two-year statute of limitations did not bar a claim for damages stemming from the 2011 stop-work order. View "Breland v. City of Fairhope" on Justia Law
Regions Bank v. BP P.L.C. et al.
Regions Bank appealed a final judgment dismissing its action against BP P.L.C., BP Corporation North America, Inc., and BP America Inc. (collectively, "BP"). In 2010, an explosion and fire occurred aboard the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore-drilling rig, located off the coast of Louisiana. The incident led to a massive discharge of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, which, in turn, spawned an expansive clean-up and response operation by BP and various governmental agencies. Regions owned coastal real property located in Baldwin County, Alabama. Regions filed this trespass action against BP in Alabama Circuit Court, alleging BP occupied Regions' property, without authorization, for its spill-response operation; that BP moved equipment and structures onto the property without permission; and that BP erected fences and barriers on the property, again, without permission. Regions further alleged that BP stored hazardous materials and waste on the property and that those hazardous materials and waste damaged the property. BP filed a Rule 12(c), Ala. R. Civ. P., "motion to dismiss" Regions' trespass action on the ground that it was subject to the class-action settlement approved in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) and, therefore, that dismissal was warranted on the basis of the doctrine of res judicata. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found "clear and unequivocal" exceptions to the MDL economic-and-property-damage-settlement class, and concluded that Regions was not a member of the settlement class. Therefore, its trespass claim was not adjudicated as part of the MDL class-action settlement. Accordingly, the Court reversed the circuit court for dismissing Regions' action on the ground of res judicata. View "Regions Bank v. BP P.L.C. et al." on Justia Law