Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
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In this complaint alleging violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq., and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCA), 42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq., the First Circuit vacated the order of the district court granting a motion to stay the proceedings under the so-called doctrine of primary jurisdiction, holding that the district court improperly stayed the case.Conservation Law Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, brought this suit against ExxonMobil Corporation, ExxonMobil Oil Corporation, and ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (collectively, ExxonMobil), alleging unlawful violations at ExxonMobil's petroleum storage and distribution terminal in Everett, Massachusetts. After the district court denied ExxonMobil's motion to dismiss, ExxonMobil moved to stay the case under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a decision on ExxonMobil's pending permit renewal application for the Everett terminal. The First Circuit vacated the stay order, holding that the district court erred in granting a stay under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction until EPA issues a new permit for ExxonMobil's Everett terminal. View "Conservation Law Foundation v. ExxonMobil Corp." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court dismissing this action against the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) under the citizen enforcement provision of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1365(a), holding that Plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to survive a motion to dismiss.In his complaint, Plaintiff claimed that PRASA was violated the CWA by discharging raw sewage that flowed into a creek near her home in San Juan. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, finding that a citizen suit was barred because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was prosecuting a case it previously filed against PRASA addressing the same violations. The First Circuit vacated the order, holding (1) the district court failed to follow the correct standard for evaluating a motion to dismiss; and (2) Plaintiff's complaint stated a plausible claim that the EPA was not diligently persecuting certain violations. View "Cebollero-Bertran v. Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying a preliminary injunction barring construction of Segment 1 of a planned five-segment electric transmission power corridor in Maine, holding that Plaintiffs failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits.The planned transmission power corridor was part of a larger project that would run from Quebec, Canada to Massachusetts. After its performance of an environmental assessment, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit authorizing Central Maine Power, a private company, to take three actions in Segment 1. Plaintiffs, environmental organizations, sought preliminary injunctive relief. The district court rejected Plaintiffs' challenges and denied relief. Plaintiffs then brought this interlocutory appeal and filed an emergency motion for injunction pending appeal. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs' challenges did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. View "Sierra Club v. United States Department of Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissing Blackstone Headwaters Coalition, Inc.'s complaint alleging that Defendants had violated the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq., holding that the district court erred by granting summary judgment on Count I of the complaint.Plaintiff, a non-profit environmental organization, sued two companies and two individuals involved in the development of a residential construction site in Massachusetts. In Count I of the complaint, Plaintiff alleged that three defendants had violated the Federal CWA by failing to obtain from the EPA a construction general permit. Count II alleged that all four defendants had violated the Federal CWA by failing to prevent sediment-laden stormwater discharges from flowing from that construction site into waters leading to the Blackstone River. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The First Circuit reversed in part, holding that nothing supported Defendants' argument that a citizen suit under the Federal CWA cannot be brought against an entity that is alleged to be an operator of a construction site that is unlawfully discharging pollutants into federal waters long as another entity controlled by the same individuals has such permit coverage. View "BBlackstone Headwaters Coalition, Inc. v. Gallo Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the ruling of the district court approving a consent decree to which Appellants, three companies, were not parties but that had been entered into by certain federal agencies, Emhart Industries, and the State of Rhode Island, holding that the district court's approval of the decree was proper.The decree settled claims involving parties under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Rhode Island law regarding the responsibility for and allocation of the costs of the cleanup of a contaminated Superfund site located in North Providence, Rhode Island. The decree further purported to bar Appellants' own CERCLA claims against Emhart and the federal agencies relevant to the allocation of the costs of the site's cleanup. The district court approved the decree. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in approving the decree. View "Emhart Industries, Inc. v. CNA Holdings LLC" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the order of the federal district court allowing Rhode Island's motion to return to state court its state court complaint against several oil and gas companies for damage caused by fossil fuels, holding that the allegations in Rhode Island's complaint did not give rise to federal-officer jurisdiction.In 2018, faced with rising sea levels and other property damage from extreme weather events caused by climate change, Rhode Island sued, in state court, several oil and gas companies for damage caused by fossil fuels while those companies misled the public about their products' true risks. The oil companies removed the case to federal district court. Rhode Island moved for the case to be remanded to state court. The district court granted the motion and ordered the case remanded to state court. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in finding that there was no subject matter jurisdiction under the federal-officer removal statute. View "State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated appeals, the First Circuit affirmed the judgments of the district court finding that Thomas & Betts was “liable to” New Albertson’s and other parties were “liable to” Thomas & Betts for certain portions of “response costs” that had been incurred in the cleanup of Mother Brook, a canal in Boston, Massachusetts, following the canal’s contamination by polychlorinated biphenyls.The canal’s cleanup resulted in a lawsuit in which Thomas & Betts and New Albertson’s brought Massachusetts law claims against each other and various third parties. The claims were primarily brought under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 21E, 4 seeking reimbursement for the money each party had spent on the cleanup. The jury allocated the percentage of the response costs that each of the various parties were responsible for reimbursing to, respectively, New Albertson’s and Thomas & Betts. The district court awarded prejudgment interest to New Albertson’s and Thomas & Betts on the funds that had been awarded to each of them on their chapter 4 claims and then awarded New Albertson’s attorney’s fees. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that no reversible error occurred in the proceedings below. View "Thomas & Betts Corp. v. Alfa Laval Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit upheld the decision of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose a limit - through a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit - on the amount of nitrogen that the Taunton Wastewater Treatment Plant may discharge.After the final permit issued, the City of Taunton, Massachusetts appealed to the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB), challenging both the need for any nitrogen limit and the specific limit that the permit imposed. The EAB denied the City’s administrative appeal on the merits. The City then appealed to the First Circuit, challenging the final agency action on various procedural and substantive grounds. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that none of the City’s procedural or substantive challenges had merit. View "City of Taunton v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiffs’ two suits against the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), holding that the EPA’s role in developing and approving several total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) in Massachusetts and Rhode Island did not constitute a decision that required the EPA to send notices under 40 C.F.R. 124.52(b), a regulation promulgated under the Clean Water Act (Act).In this case, Plaintiffs argued that, in helping to develop and in approving the TDMLs at issue, the EPA made certain determinations that triggered a duty to send notices in compliance with 40 C.F.R. 124.52(b). The lower courts found that these suits had no toehold in the Act’s limited authorization of citizen suits against the EPA, which is otherwise entitled to sovereign immunity. The First Circuit disagreed, holding (1) the EPA’s approval of the TMDLs was not a decision that an individual permit was required within the meaning of the statute; (2) the EPA’s approval of the TMDLs did not therefore trigger the notice requirement; and (3) consequently, the complaints alleged no failure by the EPA to perform a nondiscretionary duty. View "Conservation Law Foundation v. Pruitt" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiffs’ two suits against the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), holding that the EPA’s role in developing and approving several total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) in Massachusetts and Rhode Island did not constitute a decision that required the EPA to send notices under 40 C.F.R. 124.52(b), a regulation promulgated under the Clean Water Act (Act).In this case, Plaintiffs argued that, in helping to develop and in approving the TDMLs at issue, the EPA made certain determinations that triggered a duty to send notices in compliance with 40 C.F.R. 124.52(b). The lower courts found that these suits had no toehold in the Act’s limited authorization of citizen suits against the EPA, which is otherwise entitled to sovereign immunity. The First Circuit disagreed, holding (1) the EPA’s approval of the TMDLs was not a decision that an individual permit was required within the meaning of the statute; (2) the EPA’s approval of the TMDLs did not therefore trigger the notice requirement; and (3) consequently, the complaints alleged no failure by the EPA to perform a nondiscretionary duty. View "Conservation Law Foundation v. Pruitt" on Justia Law