Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., LLC
In this climate-change case, the First Circuit once more affirmed the order of the federal district court allowing Rhode Island's motion to return to state court its state court complaint against oil and gas companies for damages caused by fossil fuels, holding that Rhode Island's complaint did not give rise to federal removal jurisdiction.Rhode Island originally brought this complaint in state court, alleging state-law causes of action for, inter alia, public nuisance. After the energy 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 the remand order. On certiorari, the Supreme Court instructed that the First Circuit give further consideration in light of recent caselaw. The First Circuit received supplemental briefs and then affirmed once more the judge's remand order, holding that removal based on federal-question jurisdiction and on other jurisdictional and removal statutes was not proper. View "State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., LLC" on Justia Law
Blackstone Headwaters Coalition v. Gallo Builders, Inc.
The First Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the grant of summary judgment against Blackstone Headwaters Coalition in this citizen suit brought against various defendants involved in the development of a construction site, holding that North and South Rivers Watershed Ass'n v. Town of Scituate, 949 F.2d 552 (1st Cir. 1991), construed the scope of 33 U.S.C. 1319(g)(6)(A)'s limitation on citizen suits too broadly.In Scituate, a First Circuit panel held that the limitation on citizen suits established by 33 U.S.C. 1319(g)(6)(A) precludes a citizen suit that seeks to obtain declaratory or prospective injunctive relief from a violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq. In the instant case, a panel of the Court relied on Scituate to affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment against Blackstone. The Court then reconsidered its decision in Scituate, vacated the panel opinion in this case, and reversed the grant of summary judgment in part, holding that, contrary to Scituate, the limitation set forth in section 1319(g)(6)(A) bars only a citizen suit that seeks to apply a civil penalty for an ongoing violation of the CWA and does not bar a citizen suit for declaratory and prospective injunction relief to redress an ongoing violation of the CWA. View "Blackstone Headwaters Coalition v. Gallo Builders, Inc." on Justia Law
United States v. Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co.
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court entering three separate judgment opinions and orders against Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) in this action brought by the United States seeking to recover response costs associated with the cleanup of the Maunabo Area Groundwater Contamination Superfund Site, holding that the district court did not err.The United States brought this action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq., against PRIDCO, as a potentially responsible party. PRIDCO owned property on the Site that contained elevated levels of hazardous substances in the groundwater that were found downgradient in a public drinking water well. In its orders against PRIDCO, the district court found, inter alia, that the United States had established its prima facie case against PRIDCO for liability under CERCLA and that PRIDCO was liable for $5.5 million in past response costs and would be liable for additional response costs reasonably incurred by the United States. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the entry of summary judgment and award of response costs was not error. View "United States v. Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co." on Justia Law
District 4 Lodge of the International Ass’n v. Raimondo
In this dispute between the Maine lobster industry and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the Agency) over a rule barring frequently employed methods of lobstering the First Circuit granted the Agency's motion for a stay pending appeal of the district court's issuance a permanent injunction, holding that the Agency was entitled to a stay.In 2021, the Agency issued a rule barring, from October to January each year, the most frequently employed methods of lobstering in an approximately 1,000-square-mile area of the Atlantic Ocean in order to reduce the risk that a right whale would become entangled in the ropes connecting lobster traps to buoys. Plaintiffs brought this action seeking to postpone enforcement of the new rule until the district court could finally decide whether the new rule was lawful. The district court granted Plaintiffs' preliminary request. The Agency appealed and asked the First Circuit to issue a stay of the district court order. The First Circuit granted the government's motion, holding the district court misapprended the record and erred in rejecting the Agency's arguments. View "District 4 Lodge of the International Ass'n v. Raimondo" on Justia Law
Conservation Law Foundation v. ExxonMobil Corp.
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
Cebollero-Bertran v. Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority
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
Sierra Club v. United States Department of Army Corps of Engineers
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
BBlackstone Headwaters Coalition, Inc. v. Gallo Builders, Inc.
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
Emhart Industries, Inc. v. CNA Holdings LLC
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
State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., LLC
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