Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
by
Plaintiff regularly used Roundup on his lawn for about 30 years. Plaintiff was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma, which he believes was linked to the main chemical ingredient in Roundup. Plaintiff filed against Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup®. In his four-count complaint, he alleged strict liability for a design defect under Georgia law (Count I); strict liability for failure to warn under Georgia law (Count II); negligence under Georgia law (Count III); and breach of implied warranties under Georgia law (Count IV). The district court granted Defendant’s motion, thereby eliminating Counts I and III from the Complaint. Plaintiff timely appealed the district court’s judgment on the pleadings as to Count II.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded. The court held that Plaintiff’s failure to warn claim is not preempted by the federal requirements under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) or the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) actions pursuant to it. The court explained that sometimes IFRA or the EPA’s actions pursuant to FIFRA may preempt state law. But only federal action with the force of law has the capacity to preempt state law. Here, the problem for Monsanto is that the EPA’s registration process is not sufficiently formal to carry with it the force of law under Mead. Further, Monsanto cannot wave the “formality” wand on EPA actions to accomplish compliance with the Mead standard. None of them are the product of “notice-and-comment rulemaking” or “formal adjudication.” Nor do the EPA letters Monsanto points to “bespeak the legislative type of activity that would naturally bind” Monsanto. View "John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit was tasked with determining whether the Tampa Electric Company violated OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response  (“HAZWOPER”) standard when employees at one of its power plants responded to an ammonia release without donning certain protective gear.   The case arose when one of the underground pipes became over-pressurized, and, as it was designed to do, the system automatically diverted ammonia from that pipe to the sump. About 45 minutes after the ammonia began to vent, a security guard heard the alarm sounding at the skid and smelled ammonia. He began having trouble breathing and reported the leak. Once notified, control-room personnel dispatched “rovers”—specially trained response employees—to manage the ammonia release   Because the rovers arrived at the skid without a “self-contained breathing apparatus[es],” OSHA fined Tampa Electric $9,054 under 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.120(q)(3)(iv). Tampa Electric appealed the citation. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (“Commission”) held that Tampa Electric’s response to the ammonia release wasn’t an “emergency response” within the meaning of the HAZWOPER standard and, therefore, that the company hadn’t violated that standard. The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition for review and affirmed the order of the Commission. The court held that the release here was controlled— or, in the words of the regulation, that it wasn’t “uncontrolled.” Because the response to it wasn’t an “emergency response,” the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply to the rovers’ conduct. And because the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply, Tampa Electric didn’t violate it. View "U.S. Department of Labor v. Tampa Electric Company" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's order dismissing, based on lack of standing, plaintiffs' action alleging that Sea Island did not comply with the Clean Water Act’s permitting process. The court concluded that Plaintiff Fraser adequately alleged a concrete injury to her aesthetic interest in the wetland and therefore the court need not address plaintiffs' remaining arguments. In this case, Fraser adequately alleged that she suffered an injury to her aesthetic interests in the wetland because she has viewed the wetland, derived aesthetic pleasure from its natural habitat and vegetation, and now derives less pleasure from the unnatural grasses and lawn placed on the wetland. Therefore, Fraser's allegations are sufficient to establish an injury in fact at this stage, and the district court erred in concluding otherwise. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "The Glynn Environmental Coalition, Inc. v. Sea Island Acquisition, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Enacted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), creates a comprehensive remedial scheme that governs—and apportions liability for—oil-removal costs. OPA holds oil spillers strictly liable upfront for oil-removal expenses and allows them, if they meet certain requirements, to avail themselves of one of three liability defenses and to seek contribution from other culpable parties. The M/V SAVAGE VOYAGER was transporting oil through a Mississippi waterway when an accident at a boat lift— operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—caused a rupture in the SAVAGE VOYAGER’s hull, through which thousands of gallons of oil poured into the river.The owners of the vessel sued the United States, not under the OPA, but under the common-law admiralty regime. They cited the Suits in Admiralty Act (SAA), a 1920 law by which Congress generally waived sovereign immunity for most admiralty claims. The interplay between the OPA and the SAA was an issue of first impression in the federal courts. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the vessel owner’s claims for removal costs. OPA authorizes no claim against the government for oil-removal damages and OPA’s comprehensive remedial scheme displaced the SAA’s more general sovereign-immunity waiver. View "Savage Services Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In the early 1900s, New York City used a Brooklyn powerhouse to provide electricity for its trolley system. In 1940, the City took ownership of the power plant and removed a smokestack, placed it in the building's basement, on top of a mechanical system that was insulated with friable asbestos-containing material, and buried it under a concrete slab. Enterprises acquired the property in 1986. An asbestos inspection by the city revealed that the property was contaminated with PCBs. The property was placed on New York’s Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites, rendering it effectively worthless. The state began remediation in 2015. The discovery of the buried smokestack and friable asbestos-containing material postponed the project indefinitely. New York City continued to tax the property according to its “best intended use” as a warehouse. Rather than paying the taxes or properly challenging their validity, Enterprises ignored them. The taxes became liens.In 2018, Enterprises filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and initiated an adversary proceeding against the city, alleging “continuous trespass,” and seeking a declaratory judgment that the city is responsible for the hazardous waste and resulting damage and improperly taxed the property. The bankruptcy court dismissed the adversary proceeding. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Even assuming the latest possible date of discovery, Enterprises’ trespass claim is time-barred. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, 11 U.S.C. 505(a)(2)(C), prohibited the court from redetermining the tax assessments. View "5200 Enterprises Ltd. v. City of New York" on Justia Law

by
In 1996, when she was an infant, Cynthia's family moved to the "Acreage" in Palm Beach County, Florida, about 10 miles from undeveloped land that Pratt used for tests that contaminated the soil. By 1993, most of the soil at the site required removal. Cynthia’s parents allege that in 1993-2000, Pratt excavated contaminated soil that was sold as “fill” for the Acreage and that runoff from the contaminated soil leached into the Acreage’s water supply. In 2009, the Florida Department of Health found a cluster of pediatric brain cancer cases in the Acreage. In 2009, doctors diagnosed Cynthia with ependymoma brain cancer, which metastasized to her spine. Doctors detected thorium-230 in Cynthia’s spine hundreds of times higher than would normally be expected. Cynthia turned 18 in 2014 and filed suit, alleging she was unaware of the contamination until 2014. Cynthia died in 2016. Her Florida law wrongful death by negligence and trespass claims were untimely under Florida's four-year limitations period. With respect to claims under the Price-Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2), her parents cited the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, which tolls the statute of limitations until a plaintiff knows (or reasonably should have known) her injury was caused by a hazardous substance, or until the plaintiff reaches the age of majority.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit CERCLA’s discovery-tolling provision applies only to actions “brought under State law.” Actions under the Price-Anderson Act borrow from the state where the incident occurred, so Florida’s four-year statute of limitations governs. View "Santiago v. Raytheon Technologies Corp." on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Corps, holding that the district court properly determined that it was reasonable for the Corps to conclude that environmental effects of phosphogypsum production and storage fell outside the scope of its National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review. The court held that the Corps otherwise complied with NEPA by issuing an area-wide environmental-impact statement, which served as the mine-specific impact statement for each of the four proposed mine sites, and following that up with a supplemental environmental assessment of the South Pasture Mine Extension, before issuing the Section 404 permit related to that mine in a record of decision.Finally, the court held that the Corps did not violate section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, which requires each agency to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before taking an "action" to ensure that such action was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or its habitat. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

by
The EPA has discretion not to commence withdrawal proceedings under 40 C.F.R. 123.64(b) even if it finds that a state's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program has not always complied with the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA).The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the EPA's decision affirming its previous refusal to commence withdrawal proceedings against Alabama. In regard to the four alleged violations, the court held that the EPA reasonably construed the statutory and regulatory text. The court also held that the EPA's decision not to commence withdrawal proceedings in the face of these alleged violations was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law. View "Cahaba Riverkeeper v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

by
The panel denied the petition for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc, affirming the panel's January 12, 2018 opinion affirming the district court. In the January opinion, the panel determined that no reasonable fact finder could conclude that the injuries of a killer whale held in captivity, Lolita, presented a "threat of serious harm" sufficient to trigger liability under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The opinion reflected the panel's determination that the law would be better served by announcing the "threat of serious harm" rule, without defining its contours, and allowing district courts the flexibility to apply that rule to future circumstances with which they are presented. The panel held that the January opinion aligned with Congress's intent in drafting the ESA: to prevent extinction. Finally, the panel rejected PETA's alternative argument that the panel's reading of the ESA conflicted with regulatory definitions. View "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. v. Miami Seaquarium" on Justia Law

by
Conservationists filed suit under the Clean Water Act and Florida law, challenging the Corps' decisions about when and how to release water from certain locks along the Okeechobee Waterway. The district court dismissed the complaint based on the Corps' sovereign immunity. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(b) required the dismissal of this case regardless of whether the court agreed with the Water District's sequencing argument on cross-appeal or the Corps' sovereign immunity argument. The court need not reach those matters because the Water District was an indispensable party under Rule 19(b) and thus the action may not proceed without the Water District. View "Florida Wildlife Federation Inc. v. US Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law