Articles Posted in U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals

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The companies obtained an oil and gas lease from the government for a 5760-acre tract on the Outer Continental Shelf. They made an initial bonus payment of $23,236,314 and have paid additional rental payments of $54,720 per year. The lease became effective on August 1, 2008, and had an initial term running through July 31, 2016. It provided that it issued pursuant to and was subject to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of August 7, 1953, (OCSLA) 43 U.S.C. 1331 and “all regulations issued pursuant to the statute in the future which provide for the prevention of waste and conservation of the natural resources of the Outer Continental Shelf and the protection of correlative rights therein; and all other applicable statutes and regulations.” In 2010, an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and caused an oil spill that lasted several months. As a result, the government imposed new regulatory requirements, Oil Pollution Act (OPA), 33 U.S.C. 2701. The companies sued for breach of contract. The Claims Court and Federal Circuit ruled in favor of the government, finding that the government made the changes pursuant to OCSLA, not OPA. View "Century Exploration New Orleans, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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In the 1830s, the Army Corps of Engineers began constructing harbor jetties into Lake Michigan near the St. Joseph River. In 1950 the Corps began encasing the jetties in steel-sheet piling. The project was completed in 1989. Plaintiffs own land along the lake shore, south of the jetties. The shoreline is eroding naturally, but plaintiffs allege that the jetties block the flow of sand and sediment from the river and the lakeshore north of their properties, interrupting the natural littoral drift and leading to increased erosion on their properties. In 1958, the Corps released a study that documented increased erosion in certain areas. Following another study, a mitigation plan was implemented in 1976, using fine sand. After 15 years of beach nourishment, efforts shifted to using coarser sediment; in 1995, the Corps dumped large rocks into the lake. The Corps released reports in 1973, 1996, 1997, and 1999 on the erosive effects of the jetties and the progress of mitigation. There was also a 1998 newspaper article concerning the erosion. In 1999, plaintiffs filed suit, alleging takings, 28 U.S.C. 1491. The Claims Court dismissed the actions as time-barred. The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the court clearly erred in finding that plaintiffs knew or should have known of their claims before 1952 and violated the mandate of a previous remand. View "Banks v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs own properties surrounded by or adjacent to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the largest national forest in California, encompassing approximately 2.1 million acres. In 2008 the “Iron Complex” wildfires burned within the Forest. The U.S. Forest Service intentionally lit fires to reduce unburned timber that might fuel the fires, causing destruction of 1,782 acres of marketable timber on plaintiffs’ properties. Plaintiffs alleged a taking for which they should be compensated. The district court dismissed, citing the doctrine of necessity, which absolves the government from liability for any taking or destruction of property in efforts to fight fires. The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded, reasoning that not every action taken for the purpose of fire prevention is protected by the necessity doctrine. The facts pled in the complaint do not demonstrate that the Iron Complex fire created an imminent danger and an actual emergency necessitating the burning of 1,782 acres. View "TrinCo Inv. Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Casitas Water District operates the Ventura River Project, which is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and provides water to Ventura County, California, using dams, reservoirs, a canal, pump stations, and many miles of pipeline. In 1997, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the West Coast steelhead trout as an endangered species and determined that the primary cause of its decline was loss of habitat due to water development, including impassable dams. Casitas faced liability if continued operation of the Project resulted in harm to the steelhead, 16 U.S.C. 1538(a)(1), 1540(a)–(b). In 2003, NMFS issued a biological opinion concerning operation of a fish ladder to relieve Casitas of liability. Casitas opened the Robles fish ladder, then filed suit, asserting that the biological opinion operating criteria breached its 1956 Contract with the government or amounted to uncompensated taking of Casitas’s property. The Claims Court dismissed, citing the sovereign acts doctrine. The Federal Circuit affirmed dismissal of the contract claim, but reversed dismissal of Casitas’s takings claim. The court again dismissed, holding that Casitas had failed to show that the operating criteria had thus far resulted in any reduction of water deliveries, so a takings claim was not yet ripe. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Casitas Mun. Water Dist. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Before the mid-2000s, automobile manufacturers used a refrigerant called R-134a for automobile air conditioners. In 2006 the European Union enacted regulations requiring automobiles to use refrigerants with low “global warming potential.” The U.S. has not adopted similar regulations, but U.S. and foreign automobile manufacturers are both transitioning to 1234yf, which has a low global warming potential, and has become “remarkably successful,” according to Honeywell. Both Arkema and Honeywell wish to supply the industry with 1234yf, and both have invested substantial resources in its production. Arkema built a manufacturing facility in France and plans to build another facility to meet growing demand. Honeywell has a plant in New York and is developing a larger facility in Louisiana. Honeywell owns a number of patents relating to 1234yf. Arkema sought a declaratory judgment that by entering into contracts to supply 1234yf, it would not incur liability as an indirect infringer under the patents. The district court concluded that there was no justiciable controversy. The Federal Circuit reversed to allow Arkema to supplement. View "Arkema, Inc. v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law

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Indian Harbor sought reimbursement under the National Defense Authorization Act of 1993, 106 Stat. 2315, 2371; 107 Stat. 1547, 1745 for environmental cleanup costs associated with the development of the former Marine Corps Air Station Tustin military base in southern California. The Court of Federal Claims determined that Indian Harbor failed to identify a “claim for personal injury or property” that triggered the government’s duty to indemnify and dismissed. The Federal Circuit reversed, relying on the purposes of the Act, to encourage cleanup and redevelopment of former military installations. View "Indian Harbor Ins. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1968, Lost Tree entered an option to purchase approximately 2,750 acres on Florida’s coast, near Vero Beach, encompassing a barrier island, bisected by the A-1-A Highway, and stretching west to islands on the Indian River. Lost Tree purchased substantially all of the land, including the 4.99-acre “Plat 57” on John’s Island. Through the mid-1990s, Lost Tree developed approximately 1,300 acres into the gated residential community, John’s Island, which includes golf courses, a beach club, a hotel, condominiums, and single family homes. In 2002 Lost Tree first considered development of Plat 57 and applied to the Army Corps of Engineers for a permit under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344, to fill 2.13 acres of wetland. The Corps denied the application in 2004, reasoning that the parcel as a whole included Plat 57, a neighboring upland plat, and scattered wetlands in the vicinity stating that less environmentally damaging alternatives were available, and that Lost Tree “has had very reasonable use of its land.” The Court of Federal Claims denied takings claim. The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the court erred in determining the relevant parcel. Plat 57 alone was the relevant parcel: Lost Tree had distinct economic expectations for Plat 57. View "Lost Tree Vill. Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1942, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation dammed the upper San Joaquin River near Friant, California. Friant Dam still operates, generates electricity and collects water for agriculture, but causes portions of the river to dry up, leading to extermination of Chinook salmon and other ecological consequences. In 1988 environmental groups sued the federal government, claiming violations of state and federal environmental protection laws. In 2006, the parties reached a settlement that obliged the government to release water to restore and maintain fish populations downstream, while continuing to support surrounding landowners, who depend on the water. Congress subsequently passed the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act, 123 Stat. 1349, directing the Secretary of the Interior to implement the Settlement. In 2009 the Bureau of Reclamation initiated the first release of water. In August 2010, downstream owners sued the government for takings, alleging that the releases unlawfully impaired property rights in the water and inundated their land. Two of the environmental groups involved in the first case moved to intervene as of right. The Court of Federal Claims denied their motion, finding that the groups’ interests were sufficiently aligned with the government’s as to create no foundation for intervention. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Wolfsen Land & Cattle Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2009 the Forest Service awarded Scott contracts to remove timber on federally-owned plots during a designated period. Scott was then pursuing litigation based on delays in other contracts resulting from environmental litigation. The government therefore included provisions in the contracts at issue, authorizing suspension of the contracts to comply with court orders or for environmental reasons. The contracts provided for term adjustment, but prohibited award of lost profits, attorney’s fees, replacement costs, and similar losses. Another environmental suit arose in Oregon, resulting in an injunction that included the contracts at issue. The Forest Service suspended the contracts and began protected species surveys required by that litigation. Surveys were completed in late 2000, but the suspensions continued, due to new litigation, until 2003. In 2004-2008, Scott harvested the total contractual amount of timber. In 2005, Scott sought damages. The Claims Court found breach of an implied duty of good faith and fair dealing and that the government unreasonably delayed the surveys and continued the suspensions. The court found that Scott was entitled to $28,742 in lost profits and $129,599 in additional costs, offset by some actual profit; the government was also liable to a log-processing subcontractor, for $6,771,397 in lost profits; The Federal Circuit reversed. View "Scott Timber Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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During World War II, the U.S. contracted with oil companies for the production of aviation fuel, which resulted in production of hazardous waste. The waste was dumped at the California McColl site. Several decades later, the oil companies were held liable for cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, and sought reimbursement from the government based on the contracts. The district court entered summary judgment on liability, finding that the contracts contained open ended indemnification agreements and encompassed costs for CERLCA cleanup, and awarded $87,344,345.70. The trial judge subsequently discovered that his wife had inherited 97.59 shares of stock in a parent to two of the oil companies. The judge ultimately vacated his summary judgment rulings; severed two companies from the suit and directed the clerk to reassign their claims to a different judge; reinstated his prior decisions with respect to two remaining companies; and entered judgment against the government ($68,849,505). The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded for reassignment to another judge. The judge was required to recuse himself under 28 U.S.C. 455(b)(4) and the error was not harmless. View "Shell Oil Co. v. United States" on Justia Law