Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
Gulf Restoration Network, Inc., et al. v. Salazar, et al.; Ctr for Biological Diversity v. Salazar, et al.
Petitioners, non-profit environmental protection organizations, filed petitions for judicial review challenging sixteen Department of the Interior (DOI) plan approvals, issued between March 29 and May 20, 2010, under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. 1331-1356a. The court concluded that: (1) petitioners' OCSLA-based challenges were justiciable, except for four, which have become moot; (2) the DOI's approval of the exploratory and development plans were subject to judicial review by the court under OCSLA, 43 U.S.C. 1349(c)(2); (3) petitioners' failure to participate in the administrative proceedings related to the DOI's approval of the plans as required by section 1349(c)(3) did not oust the court's jurisdiction because that participation requirement was a non-jurisdictional administrative exhaustion rule; but, (4) petitioners have not shown sufficient justification for excusing them from that exhaustion requirement in this case. Accordingly, except for four of petitioners' petitions for judicial review that were dismissed as moot, petitioners' petitions for judicial review were dismissed because of their failure to participate in the administrative proceedings. View "Gulf Restoration Network, Inc., et al. v. Salazar, et al.; Ctr for Biological Diversity v. Salazar, et al." on Justia Law
Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, et al. v. Chustz
Appellants, private entities with an interest in protecting Bayou Postillion in Iberia Parish, Louisiana, sued the Program, alleging that the Program violated the conditions of a permit issued to it by the Corps under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of appellants' case after determining that the Act did not allow citizen suits to enforce the conditions of a section 1344 permit. View "Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, et al. v. Chustz" on Justia Law
United States v. Pruett, et al.
Defendants were charged with knowingly violating the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq., and were convicted on multiple counts. Defendant Pruett, through LLWC and LWC Management, was responsible for the operation of 28 wastewater treatment facilities in northern Louisiana. The court concluded that section 1319(c)(1)(A) of the Act required only proof of ordinary negligence and thus held that the district court's jury instructions were proper; the district court did not err in admitting Rule 404(b) evidence at issue; the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting negative character evidence; the district court properly ruled that a government witness's prior conviction was not admissible under Rule 609(a)(2); the district court was within its discretion to excuse Juror No. 8 and replace him with an alternate; the district court did not clearly err in concluding that Pruett used his position as the president and CEO of LLWC and LWC Management to facilitate the commission of the offenses and therefore, did not err in applying the U.S.S.G. 3B1.3 enhancement; and the fines imposed on defendants were reasonable. Accordingly, the convictions and sentences were affirmed. View "United States v. Pruett, et al." on Justia Law
LA Environmental Action Ntwrk v. City of Baton Rouge, et al.
Plaintiff filed a citizen suit against defendants, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq. Defendants filed a rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, asserting that the citizen suit was barred under the "diligent prosecution" provision of the Act under section 1365(b)(1)(B). The district court granted the motion to dismiss, but on the ground that the 2002 consent decree mooted plaintiff's claims. On appeal, plaintiff contended that the district court erred in granting defendants' motion to dismiss. The court held that the district court improperly dismissed the citizen suit based on mootness where neither party argued that any circumstances subsequent to the filing of the lawsuit rendered it moot. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for the district court to consider in the first instance whether the suit was precluded under the "diligent prosecution" provision. View "LA Environmental Action Ntwrk v. City of Baton Rouge, et al." on Justia Law
Luminant Generation Co., et al. v. EPA
This case required the court to review the EPA's disapproval, more than three years after the time within which it was statutorily required to act, of three regulations promulgated by the State of Texas. 30 Tex. Admin. Code 116.610(a), 116,610(b), and 116.617. Pursuant to Texas's duty under the Clear Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq., to adopt and administer a statewide plan for implementing federal air quality standards, those regulations provided a standardized permit for certain projects that reduce or maintain current emissions rates. Because the EPA had no legal basis on which to disapprove those regulations, the court vacated the agency's disapproval of Texas's regulations and remanded with instructions. View "Luminant Generation Co., et al. v. EPA" on Justia Law
Bd of MS Levee Commissioners v. EPA, et al.
The Board appealed the district court's decision granting summary judgment to appellees on the Board's claim that the EPA improperly exercised its power to veto a plan to reduce flooding in Mississippi (the Project). The Board claimed that the EPA was barred from vetoing the Project under section 404(r) of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344(r). As an initial matter, the court denied the Board's motion to supplement the record on appeal or, in the alternative, for judicial notice. In addition, the court concluded that the EPA waived its argument that the Board did not have prudential standing under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq. The court affirmed the district court's decision upholding the EPA's veto, as the record did not contain sufficient evidence to overturn the EPA's findings. View "Bd of MS Levee Commissioners v. EPA, et al." on Justia Law
In re: Katrina Canal Breaches
This case involved the Corps' dredging of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), a shipping channel between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as levees alongside the channel and around the city. The Corps' negligence in maintaining the channel, grounded on a failure to appreciate certain hydrological risks, caused levees to fail and aggravated the effects of 2005's Hurricane Katrina on the city and its environs. Claimants filed hundreds of lawsuits and this opinion concerned three groups of bellwether plaintiffs, all suing the United States for flood damages. The district court found that neither the Flood Control Act of 1928 (FCA), 33 U.S.C. 702, nor the discretionary-function exception (DFE) to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2680(a), protected the government from suit; the district court found that three plaintiffs had proven the government's full liability and four had not. Another group of plaintiffs (Anderson plaintiffs) had their cases dismissed on the government's motion, the district court finding both immunities applicable. A different group (Armstrong plaintiffs) were preparing for trial of their own case against the government. The government appealed its losses in Robinson; the losing Robinson plaintiffs cross-appealed. The Anderson plaintiffs also appealed. On the theory that a favorable ruling might moot the pending Armstrong trial, the government petitioned the court for a writ of mandamus to order the district court to stay trial until the court issued an opinion in Robinson and Anderson. The three cases have been consolidated on appeal. The court held that the district court's careful attention to the law and even more cautious scrutiny of complex facts allowed the court to uphold its ruling in full, excepting the court's minor restatement of FCA immunity. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgments in Robinson and Anderson, denying the government's petition for writ of mandamus to stay the Armstrong trial. View "In re: Katrina Canal Breaches" on Justia Law
Buffalo Marine Services Inc., et al. v. United States
This appeal arose out of an oil spill on the Neches River. Appellants challenged the National Pollution Funds Center's (NPFC) final claim determination denying reimbursement for costs arising from the spill. The district court rejected appellants' challenge to the agency determination. The court concluded that the NPFC's interpretation of 33 U.S.C. 2703 was entitled to deference and that appellants have not demonstrated that the NPFC's denial of the third-party affirmative defense claim should be overturned under the standard set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq. View "Buffalo Marine Services Inc., et al. v. United States" on Justia Law
Jefferson Block 24 Oil & Gas, v. Aspen Ins. UK Ltd., et al.
Jefferson Block submitted a claim under the London OPA Insurance Policy for Offshore Facilities (OPA Policy) for indemnification of the removal costs it incurred in responding to a pipeline leak. Underwriters denied the claim and Jefferson filed suit against Underwriters in district court, alleging that Underwriters wrongfully refused to indemnify it for oil pollution removal costs. The court held that the district court erred when it refused to apply the contra-insurer rule where the OPA Policy was ambiguous with respect to the issue of coverage for Jefferson Block's 16-inch pipeline and extrinsic evidence in the record did not conclusively resolve this ambiguity. Therefore, the court held that, since Jefferson Block offered a reasonable interpretation of the policy and did not completely draft the ambiguous provisions of the OPA Policy, the contra-insurer rule should apply and the ambiguity should be resolved in favor of the insured, Jefferson Block.
Gabarick, et al. v. Laurin Maritime (America) Inc., et al.
This case arose when an ocean-going tanker collided with a barge that was being towed on the Mississippi River, which resulted in the barge splitting in half and spilling its cargo of oil into the river. Following the filing of numerous lawsuits, including personal injury claims by the crew members and class actions by fishermen, the primary insurer filed an interpleader action, depositing its policy limits with the court. At issue was the allocations of the interpleader funds as well as the district court's finding that the maritime insurance policy's liability limit included defense costs. The court affirmed the district court's decision that defense costs eroded policy limits but was persuaded that its orders allocating court-held funds among claimants were tentative and produced no appealable order.