Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
The Nature Conservancy, Inc. v. Sims
In 2001, the Conservancy sold a 100.10 acre farm in Garrard County, Kentucky to the Sims for $60,084, in addition to a $244,939 charitable pledge from the Sims to the Conservancy. The property appraised at $260,400 without the easement at issue, which requires that the land "be retained forever substantially undisturbed in its natural condition and to prevent any use . . . that will significantly impair or interfere with the Conservation Values of the Protected Property." The Conservancy received an annual right to enter and inspect the property. In January 2005, the Conservancy inspected and documented several violations that concerned excavating and filling a sinkhole. The Sims corrected several other violations. The district court granted summary judgment to the Conservancy, concluding that, although the easement allowed some changes to the topography in conjunction with authorized activities, like plowing for commercial agriculture, the easement specifically prohibited the substantial alteration of filling in a sinkhole with an estimated 6,269 cubic yards of fill. The court awarded the Conservancy $99,796.41 in attorneys’ fees and expenses. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "The Nature Conservancy, Inc. v. Sims" on Justia Law
OneBeacon Am. Ins. Co. v. Am. Motorists Ins. Co.
OneBeacon and AMICO were insurers of the B.F. Goodrich and, among others, were liable for environmental cleanup at the Goodrich plant in Calvert City, Kentucky. AMICO settled with Goodrich, but OneBeacon’s predecessor went to trial. A state court jury found for Goodrich, and OneBeacon was ordered to pay $42 million in compensatory damages and $12 million in attorney fees. The state court also denied OneBeacon's request for settlement credits to reflect amounts paid by other insurers, such as AMICO, through settlements with Goodrich. OneBeacon sought equitable contribution; AMICO removed to federal court. The district court granted AMICO summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Ohio policy favoring settlements provides that a settled policy is exhausted for purposes of equitable contribution; the court declined to address whether Ohio law permits interclass contribution actions or whether the jury finding of bad faith bars equitable relief. View "OneBeacon Am. Ins. Co. v. Am. Motorists Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Bergmann v. MI State Transp. Comm’n
In 1979, plaintiff bought land from the Michigan State Transportation Commission. A decade later, he sued the Department of Transportation under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, claimed that there was contamination on the site. After discovery, the parties settled. The district court entered a consent decree in 1991 that required the Department to remediate the property by March 31, 1995. If by then the Department failed to make a good-faith effort to remediate, the decree required payment of $2,000 per month until remediation was complete. The Department failed to remediate or to pay the liquidated damages. On a 2009 motion to enforce the decree, the court held that the Department had waived its sovereign immunity and that a 10-year statute of limitations barred enforcement of the remediation obligation, but that each of the missed $2,000 payments triggered its own 10-year limitations period. The Sixth Circuit vacated, holding that the court should have relied on the doctrine of laches rather than the limitations period because the consent decree amounted to a remedy in equity. The waiver of immunity remained effective. View "Bergmann v. MI State Transp. Comm'n" on Justia Law
Holt-Orsted v. City of Dickson
African-Americans residing near a contaminated landfill claim that municipalities knew that well water was contaminated, warned Caucasian families and provided alternate sources of water, but did not warn African-Americans. In their suit under the Equal Protection Clause, 42 U.S.C. 1983, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, and state laws, a magistrate compelled testimony by plaintiffs' former counsel; the city asserted that, if plaintiffs consulted the attorney in 2000, the action is barred by the one-year statute of limitations. During a deposition, the attorney refused to answer some questions. The court granted a motion to compel. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Plaintiffs were not appealing a final judgment and did not qualify for interlocutory review under the Perlman exception or the collateral order doctrine. Immediate review is appropriate if an order conclusively determines a disputed issue separate from the merits that is too important to be denied review and will be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. Privilege is important and the attorney is a disinterested non-party, so the contempt-citation avenue of review is practically foreclosed, but plaintiffs, asserting the privilege, ultimately can avail themselves of a post-judgment appeal that suffices to protect the rights of the litigants and preserve the vitality of attorney-client privilege.
Griffin Indus., Inc. v. U.S. Envtl. Protection Agency
The Georgia animal-rendering operation was investigated under the Clean Water Act. Felony charges were dismissed and the company entered a plea of guilty to misdemeanor negligent discharge of waste water. The EPA subsequently received FOIA requests from outside parties, requesting documents it had obtained from the company. The EPA determined that documents obtained pursuant to search warrant or grand jury subpoena were exempt from disclosure, that other material had to be reviewed to determine whether exemptions applied, and that documents obtained from court dockets and state agencies are publicly available and not exempt from disclosure. The company sought a temporary restraining order, claiming that it was entitled to review the files before release of any information, and that confidential business information contained in the publicly available documents is exempt from disclosure. After three years, the district court ruled in favor of the company and awarded $116,038 in attorney fees. The Sixth Circuit reversed because the district court did not make a finding, and the record would not support a finding, of bad faith, necessary to support the award under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412.
Pluck v. BP Oil Pipeline Co.
An underground pipeline leaked gasoline five times between 1948 and 1962. After tests revealed benzene in wells, not including the plaintiffs' well, the company conducted remediation and monitoring and purchased the property now owned by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs bought the property and a low level of benzene was detected in the well in 1996. The company installed a new well, which tested free of benzene 22 times between 1997 and 2002. Benzene was detected at a very low level in 2003 and the plaintiffs moved in 2005. In 2002 one of the plaintiffs was diagnosed, at age 48, with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The district court entered summary judgment for the company. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The district court acted within its discretion in excluding, as unreliable under the Daubert standard, an expert's specific-causation opinion. The expert did not ascertain the level of plaintiff's exposure and the level of benzene in the well never exceeded the EPA's standard; the expert did not rule out other possible causes, such as the plaintiff's smoking.