Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals
Travelers Casualty & Surety Co. v. Providence WA Ins. Co., Inc.
The EPA initiated efforts to remediate contamination at the Rhode Island Centredale Manor Superfund Site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601-9675 and issued a unilateral administrative order to compel entities, including NE Container and Emhart to remove hazardous substances that had been disposed of at the Site as part of the former operations of several companies. Emhart sued NE Container and its insurers, which had provided general commercial liability policies to NE Container during different time periods from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s. Travelers agreed to contribute to NE Container's defense pursuant to a reservation of rights, while PWIC took the position that it had no duty to defend. Travelers has incurred significant defense costs and filed this suit, seeking contribution from PWIC. The district court ruled that PWIC was not contractually obligated to defend NE Container in the Emhart action, observing that the alleged property damage occurred before the commencement of the PWIC policy period between 1982 and 1985. The First Circuit vacated. The district court mistakenly focused solely on the timing of the insured's alleged polluting activities, rather than also considering the potential timing of property damage caused by those activities. View "Travelers Casualty & Surety Co. v. Providence WA Ins. Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Scarborough Citizens Protecting Res. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv.
A three-mile public recreational trail runs through 32 acres owned by the state and is used, in part, to access the state-managed Scarborough Marsh Wildlife Management Area. In 1961 Maine purchased the land with federal funds under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, 16 U.S.C. 669-669k for the approved purpose of “waterfowl habitat, waterfowl management, and access to waterfowl hunting.” The state subsequently granted easements for sanitary pipelines and a town road and to private parties for access to adjoining property. An easement granted in 2005 allowed construction of a road over 766 feet of previously-restricted trail for access to a planned subdivision. Objectors sought injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging violations of the Wildlife Restoration Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321, and state law. The district court dismissed federal claims and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. The First Circuit affirmed, first holding that the federal agency’s decision to not enforce the funding provisions of the WRA is within its discretion. The federal government did not grant the easements, so NEPA did not apply. View "Scarborough Citizens Protecting Res. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv." on Justia Law
United States v. Gen. Elec. Co.
For 30 years, GE manufactured electric capacitors containing Pyranol, an insulation containing PCBs and stored scrap in drums. It sold the scrap to Fletcher, who used it as a paint additive. Fletcher purchased more than 200,000 gallons of GE's scrap Pyranol until 1967. After failing to pay for 14 shipments, Fletcher proposed that GE retrieve the drums. GE did not follow up. In 1987, EPA found hundreds of unmarked drums containing scrap Pyranol at the Fletcher Site. Several had leaked. EPA installed a temporary cap, added the site to the Superfund List, and sought to recover costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9607(a)(3). A 1994 consent decree stipulated that GE would pay costs incurred through April, 1993. GE did not concede liability. In 2006, the government sought recovery for post-1993 costs. The First Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of judgment for the government on "arranger" liability. GE was aware that Fletcher had drums that would not be used and made no effort to deal with it. The court also rejected a statute of limitations defense. View "United States v. Gen. Elec. Co." on Justia Law
Redondo Waste Sys., Inc.v. Lopez-Freytes
Plaintiff, engaged in treatment and disposal of regulated biomedical waste, had trouble with its shredder and obtained approval from the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board to use autoclaves. After a few years, an inspector recommended that plaintiff's facility be shut down and ordered a landfill to stop accepting plaintiff's waste. Unable to resolve the matter with EQB, plaintiff sought a federal court injunction. The injunctions were denied, but plaintiff resumed handling waste. When a second shredder broke, an inspector again ordered the landfill to stop accepting waste and rejected several proposals for dealing with accumulated waste. Plaintiff's suit alleges more favorable treatment of a competitor and other constitutional violations. The district court dismissed for failure to link allegations to any particular defendant. The First Circuit affirmed, finding failure to meet minimal pleading standards. The complaint failed the plausibility test "spectacularly."
Safeguarding the Historic Hanscom Area’s Irreplacable Resources, Inc. v. Fed. Aviation Admin.
The FAA issued permits for modernization of the mixed-use Hanscom airport near the historic towns of Lexington and Concord. Opponents raised challenges under the Department of Transportation Act, 49 U.S.C. 303(c), the National Historic Preservation Act, 16 U.S.C. 470f, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321-4347. The First Circuit rejected the challenges. The FAA adequately examined alternatives; the determination that none would be prudent was reasonable. The agency went beyond considering reasonably foreseeable impacts and considered worst case scenarios.
San Geronimo Caribe Project, Inc. v. Acevedo Vila
In 2000 the planning board approved a development and the developer began purchasing land. In 2002, the Department of Justice issued an opinion that the land could be sold without legislative action, although it was gained from the sea. Construction began; the developer invested $200 million. Because of protests, the legislature investigated and concluded that the developer lacked valid title. A 2007 Department of Justice opinion stated that the land belonged to the public domain. The governor suspended permits and froze construction. Pending a hearing, the developer filed a quiet title action. The Regulations and Permits Administration upheld suspension of construction. The Puerto Rico appeals court ordered the administration to hold an evidentiary hearing (which did not occur), but did not lift the stay on construction. The developer succeeded in its quiet title action; in 2008 construction resumed. The supreme court held that the developer's due process rights had been violated. The district court dismissed a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The First Circuit affirmed. Although the plaintiff did state a procedural due process claim, the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. The defendants were not on clear notice they they were required to hold a meaningful pre-deprivation hearing.
L.S. Starrett Co. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm’n
After a generator failed, plaintiff ordered a replacement, believing that no permit was required for changes to its hydroelectric power facility, which is located on plaintiff's property on a non-navigable Massachusetts river. The facility consists of an 87-acre-foot reservoir, a 20-foot-high, 127-foot-long concrete gravity dam, two powerhouses, and appurtenant facilities. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that plaintiff required a license under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 817(1). The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the facility is in a stream that is subject to Commerce Clause jurisdiction, the proposed changes will constitute "post-1935 construction" under the Act, and the proposed changes will affect interstate commerce. The Commission's interpretation of "construction" as encompassing the work at issue was reasonable and substantial evidence supports a finding that small hydroelectric plants have a cumulative impact on interstate commerce.
United States v. Coal. for Buzzards Bay
After a 2003 oil spill, Massachusetts enacted an Oil Spill Prevention Act (MOSPA), which the federal government challenged as preempted by the Ports and Waterways Safety Act (33 U.S.C. 1221-1232 and parts of 46 U.S.C.) and Coast Guard regulations. While the case was pending on remand, the Coast Guard enacted a regulation pertaining to navigation on Buzzards Bay, which is claimed to expressly preempt MOSPA. The district court entered an injunction prohibiting enforcement of certain provisions of MOSPA. The First Circuit again reversed and remanded. The Coast Guard's reliance on a categorical exclusion and failure to prepare an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement violated the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4332; its finding that the rule was not likely to be highly controversial was arbitrary. The error was not harmless. Because the rule is invalid, the court did not address preemption.