Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court

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In this dispute between parties that both had water rights in the Beaver River the Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the judgment of the district court against Rocky Ford Irrigation Company on its claims against Kents Lake Reservoir Company seeking clarification regarding priority of rights and Kents Lake's obligations as to river administration but reversed the district court's decision not to clarify Kents Lake's measurement obligations, holding that Rocky Ford was entitled to clarification in this regard. As changed occurred both in water rights and in irrigation techniques and the administration of the Beaver River grew more complex, Rocky Ford brought this action against Kents Lake. The district court declined all of Rocky Ford's claims and awarded attorney fees to Kents Lake and Beaver City sua sponte. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court properly denied Rocky Ford's motion for summary judgment; (2) the trial court did not err when it refused to enter a declaratory judgment that Kents Lake cannot store the water it saves through increased efficiency; (3) the district court erred in refusing to enter a declaratory judgment regarding Kents Lake's measurement obligations; and (4) Kents Lake and Beaver City were not entitled to attorney fees. View "Rocky Ford Irrigation Co. v. Kents Lake Reservoir Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court striking down the Public Waters Access Act (PWAA), Utah Code 73-29-101 to 73-29-208, under “public trust” principles set forth in Utah Const. art. XX, 1, holding that the district court erred in treating the easement established by Conaster v. Johnson, 194 P.3d 897 (2008), as a matter beyond the legislature’s power to revise or revisit. The Supreme Court held in Conaster that the incidental right of touching the privately-owned bed of state waters is reasonably necessary to the public right to float on the water and to wade in the waters for recreation. Thereafter, the legislature enacted the PWAA, which restricted the scope of the Conaster easement by foreclosing the right to touch a streambed for purposes other than flotation. The Utah Stream Access Coalition then filed this lawsuit asserting a constitutional right of its members to wade in waters of the Provo River flowing through land owned by VR Acquisitions. The district court granted relief. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that its analysis in Conaster was based only on common-law easement principles, and because common-law decisions are subject to adaptation or reversal by the legislature, the district court erred in treating the Conaster easement as a right rooted in constitutional soil. View "Utah Stream Access Coalition v. VR Acquisitions, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner waived its challenge to the decision of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ) to issue a “permit by rule” to U.S. Oil Sands Inc. for a bitumen-extraction project. Petitioner, which appeared before the Supreme Court for a second time to challenge the permit, failed to argue that UDEQ’s Executive Director erred in concluding that Living Rivers v. U.S. Oil Sands, Inc., 344 P.3d 568 (Living Rivers I), barred its requests for agency action. The Supreme Court affirmed the executive Director’s decision on the ground that Petitioner failed adequately to challenge an alternative ground for the Executive Director’s decision. View "Rivers v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision in Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality, 391 P.3d 148 (Utah 2016) (Utah Physicians I) and dismissed the petition for review in this case for reasons set forth in the court’s decision in that case. In both cases the Director of the Utah Division of Air Quality approved a permit for a new project at an oil refinery, and the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality affirmed the issuance of the permit. In both cases, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and others (collectively, Petitioners) sought to challenge the Executive Director’s final action in a judicial proceeding. In Utah Physicians I, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition on procedural grounds because Petitioners failed to identify specific parts of the Executive Director’s final order they believed were incorrect. Because Petitioners made the same error in this case, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for review. View "Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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Friends of Great Salt Lake (Friends) challenged the decision of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (Division) granting a mining lease covering a small portion of the Great Salt Lake. Friends made three simultaneous attempts to halt the lease in requests and petitions submitted to the Division or to the Utah Department of Natural Resources (Department). The Division and Department issued a single agency order denying all three. Friends appealed and sought leave to amend its complaint to raise additional constitutional and statutory arguments. The district court affirmed the rejection of Friends’ requests and petitions, denied in part Friends’ attempt to amend its complaint, and subsequently dismissed Friends’ remaining arguments on summary judgment. Friends appealed and, alternatively, sought extraordinary relief. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed in large part and denied Friends’ request for extraordinary relief; and (2) reversed to a limited extent, holding that the Division was required to engage in “site-specific planning” under the applicable provisions of the Utah Administrative Code. Remanded to allow the Department to decide on the appropriate remedy for the failure to perform such planning. View "Friends of Great Salt Lake v. Utah Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the Director of the Utah Division of Air Quality’s (UDAQ) approval of certain changes at Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company’s Salt Lake City Refinery. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club (collectively, Petitioner) filed a request for agency action challenging the permit allowing the changes at the refinery, arguing that the Director of UDAQ conducted a legally insufficient analysis by approving Tesoro’s changes. Upon completion of permit review adjudicative proceedings, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recommended that Petitioners’ challenge be dismissed. The Executive Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality adopted the ALJ’s findings of fact, conclusions of law, and proposed disposition and dismissed each of Petitioners’ arguments. The Supreme Court dismissed Petitioners’ appeal, holding that because Petitioners did not address alleged deficiencies in the Executive Director’s final order in their opening brief, they failed to meet their burden of persuasion on appeal. View "Utah Physicians for a Health Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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In 1910, the district court issued the Little Cottonwood Morse Decree establishing water rights for the Little Cottonwood Creek. In 2013, parties bound by the contractual provisions contained in the Morse Decree filed a postjudgment motion in the case that resulted in the decree asking the district court to modify the decree. The district court denied the motion, concluding that it lacked the authority to reopen the century-old case to modify the final judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a postjudgment motion was an inappropriate procedural vehicle to modify the Morse Decree. View "Little Cottonwood Tanner Ditch Co. v. Sandy City" on Justia Law

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The Point of the Mountain Aqueduct is a sixty-inch diameter pipeline that runs along the Draper Canal and transports culinary water to Salt Lake City and other cities in the Salt Lake Valley. Plaintiffs in this case were homeowners who asserted claims challenging Metropolitan Water District's construction of the aqueduct as exceeding the scope of its real property rights along the canal route. The district court granted summary judgment for the Water District. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision in most respects, but reversed the district court's conclusion that (1) Reaches 16-17 were not limited by restrictive covenants; and (2) enclosing the Draper Canal within a buried pipeline was reasonable as a matter of law and so did not exceed the scope of the Water District's property rights in Reach 19. The Court then (1) held that warranty deeds imposed restrictive covenants that run with the land, limiting Reaches 16-17 to canal purposes only; and (2) remanded for a factual determination of whether the canal enclosure was reasonable and did not materially alter the burden to Appellants' land with respect to Reaches 16, 17, and 19. View "Stern v. Metro. Water Dist." on Justia Law

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Daniel Berman asked the district court for a declaratory judgment quantifying his Utah water rights and an injunction ordering a Wyoming water official to deliver this water to his property in Wyoming. The district court issued the declaratory judgment but expressly reserved ruling on any enforcement issues. Later, Berman filed a motion to enforce, asking the court to order Wyoming water officials, including those who were not parties in the declaratory action, to deliver the amount of water quantified in the declaratory judgment. The court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Berman's motion to enforce was procedurally barred because (1) a motion to enforce cannot be used to address matters beyond the scope of the underlying judgment it seeks to enforce, and (2) in this case, the declaratory judgment did not include any directive to Wyoming water officials. View "Berman v. Yarbrough" on Justia Law

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Summit Water was a mutual water company providing culinary grade water to residential and commercial shareholders. After the Utah State Tax Commission audited Summit Water's annual property tax affidavit and concluded that the value of the distribution facilities was substantially higher than Summit Water reported that year, Summit County assessed Summit Water for the back taxes owed for the previous four years. In all, Summit County assessed Summit Water $204,020 in additional taxes. The Summit County Board of Equalization determined that Summit Water failed to establish that the taxation of the property was incorrect or illegal, concluding (1) Summit Water was not eligible for the constitutional tax exemption afforded to entities that own a water distribution system providing water for irrigating lands because the water used by Summit Water's shareholders was for nonagricultural purposes, and (2) there was no double taxation of Summit Water's property. The Commission affirmed. The district court reversed in part, holding that the constitutional exemption at issue includes any artificial watering of land, including nonagricultural properties. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the constitutional exemption encompasses the nonagricultural watering of lands and that no double taxation occurred.