Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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Syngenta sued Willowood, a Hong Kong company that sells fungicide to its Oregon-based affiliate, for infringement of patents directed to a fungicide compound and its manufacturing processes and infringement of copyrights for detailed product labels that provide directions for use, storage, and disposal, plus first-aid instructions and environmental, physical, and chemical hazard warnings. The district court dismissed the copyright claims as precluded by the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. 135 and granted-in-part Syngenta’s summary judgment motion with respect to patent infringement. After a jury trial, the court entered a defense judgment on the patent claims. The Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part, reversed-in-part, and vacated in part. The district court did not provide an adequate analysis of the potential conflict between FIFRA and the Copyright Act. Because FIFRA does not, on its face, require a “me-too” registrant to copy the label of a registered product, FIFRA only conflicts with the Copyright Act to the extent that some particular element of Syngenta’s label is both protected under copyright doctrines and necessary for the expedited approval of Willowood’s generic pesticide. The court erred by imposing a single-entity requirement on the performance of a patented process under 35 U.S.C. 271(g); practicing a patented process abroad does not trigger liability under section 271(g) in the same manner that practicing a patented process domestically does under section 271(a). View "Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC v. Willowood, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Klamath River Basin Reclamation Project straddles the Oregon-California border and provides water to hundreds of farms. The Project is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. In 2001, the Bureau temporarily halted water delivery to farms and water districts in order to comply with its tribal trust obligations under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531. Plaintiffs alleged that action amounted to a taking without compensation, impaired their rights under the Klamath River Basin Compact, and caused the breach of water delivery contracts. The Claims Court rejected the suit on summary judgment. On remand, the Claims Court dismissed the breach of contract claims, determined that the takings claims should be analyzed as “physical takings,” and held a trial. The districts had been voluntarily dismissed as plaintiffs. As to the individual farmers, the Claims Court held that the Bureau’s actions did not amount to a taking and did not violate the Compact because the rights reserved for tribal fishing were superior. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding the plaintiffs’ state water rights subordinate to the federal tribal rights, which were recognized in an 1864 treaty. The Bureau acted reasonably to preserve water levels necessary to avoid endangering fish. View "Baley v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2005, the Ginsburgs, through their corporation (Hawthorne), acquired Brooklyn property and applied to participate in the Brownfield Cleanup Program. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved their application and the parties entered into an Agreement. The development was completed in 2011, converting an old shoe factory into a residential rental building. In 2011, the Ginsburgs granted the state an environmental easement; DEC issued a certificate of completion. Hawthorne applied for a brownfield redevelopment tax credit of $6,583,835.10 for tax year 2011, with the Ginsburgs’ share equaling $4,975,595.00, In 2013, the state paid the Ginsburgs a refund of $1,903,951.00 attributable to the brownfield redevelopment tax credit. They did not report the payment as income on their 2013 federal income tax return, claiming that this payment constituted a nontaxable refund. The IRS determined the Ginsburgs owed an additional $690,628.46 in federal income tax, which they paid. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court, holding that the excess payment of the tax credit they had received from the state is federally taxable income and “does not qualify for any exclusion or exception from the federal definition of income.” The Ginsburgs freely chose to participate and take advantage of New York’s state tax credit program and have complete dominion and control over the payment because there is a legally adequate guarantee that they will be allowed to excess amount of the tax credit, barring actionable misconduct on their part. View "Ginsburg v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1942-1943, the Government contracted with the Oil Companies to purchase aviation gasoline, vital to the war effort, permitting a profit margin “between 6% and 7%.” The manufacture of avgas from crude oil uses a 98% purity sulfuric acid as a catalyst in alkylation, a process that dilutes the sulfuric acid such that it turns it into “spent alkylation acid,” which may be used to catalyze the alkylation process again following purification; produce non-avgas petroleum by-products; or be disposed of. If spent alkylation acid is used to produce other petroleum by-products, it becomes "acidic sludge," a secondary waste with a lesser percentage of acid content that can be used to manufacture fertilizer, burned, or disposed of. Unable to reprocess the increased amount of spent alkylation acid given the prioritization of production, the Companies dumped spent alkylation acid and acid sludge in California: 12 percent of the waste was spent alkylation acid, and 82.5% was acid sludge. In 1991, the Government and California sued the Companies under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, for costs of cleaning up the disposal site. The Companies countersued. After years of litigation, the Claims Court granted the Companies partial summary judgment to prevent discovery into insurance settlements; denied the Government’s motion for leave to assert counterclaims in fraud; held that the Government was liable for clean-up costs for nonbenzol waste--$99,509,847.32, including accrued interest. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the Claims Court failed to allocate between recoverable and nonrecoverable costs, wrongfully admitted stipulations to calculate damages, and wrongly refused to allow proof of double recovery by insurance settlements. View "Shell Oil Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Inholders own patented mining and homestead claims within the Santa Fe National Forest. The 2011 Las Conchas Fire caused widespread destruction of vegetation within the forest. Forest Roads 89 and 268, which the Inholders had used to access their properties, were severely damaged by subsequent flooding. The Forest Service notified them that the roads were “impassible” and that it would provide them with limited access: “a combination of driving and hiking over specific routes and under specific weather conditions.” Later, the Service sent a letter stating that “public safety would be highly threatened by use of” the roads; that it would close the roads to public access for the foreseeable future; that because of continuing terrain instability, any reconstruction would likely be destroyed by future flooding; and, even if reconstruction were possible, the Service could not justify expending public funds when there is no general public need. The Service suggested that the Inholders work “collectively” to reconstruct the roads. The Inholders claimed that they held statutorily-granted easements. The USDA disagreed, citing 90 Stat. 2743, but acknowledged that the Inholders had a right to access their properties, “subject to reasonable regulations.” The Inholders claimed a compensable taking. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal, finding that the Inholders had not adequately pled a physical taking and that any regulatory taking claim was not ripe because the Inholders had not applied for a permit to reconstruct the roads. View "Martin v. United States" on Justia Law