Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
Arave v. Pineview West Water Co.
The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the district court in favor of Plaintiffs on their claims of interference and negligence, holding that the district court erred in determining that Defendants interfered with Plaintiffs' wells and that remand was necessary on the negligence claim to consider whether it survives the dismissal of Plaintiffs' interference claims.Plaintiffs diverted their water obtained through their water rights through the use of two wells. Defendant had a junior water right and operated five wells that were deeper and stronger than Plaintiffs' wells. Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit alleging interference and negligence, claiming that Defendant interfered with their water rights because when one of Defendant's wells operated it lowered the water table and put the available water beyond the reach of Plaintiffs' pumps. The district ruled in favor of Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the district court's determination of interference, holding that Plaintiff failed to prove interference; and (2) declined to reverse the negligence ruling but, in light of the reversal of the district court's interference determinations, remanded this claim for reconsideration and further fact-finding, if necessary. View "Arave v. Pineview West Water Co." on Justia Law
Rocky Ford Irrigation Co. v. Kents Lake Reservoir Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the district court against Rocky Ford Irrigation Company on its lawsuit against Kents Lake Reservoir Company seeking clarification regarding the priority of the parties' rights and Kents Lake's obligations as to the Beaver River administration and measurement, holding that the district court erred in denying Rocky Ford's motion for summary judgment.Specifically, the Supreme Court (1) reversed the district court's denial of Rocky Ford's motion for summary judgment, holding that Rocky Ford was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the second point on which it sought a declaration of rights; (2) affirmed the court's decision refusing to declare that Kents Lake could not store its efficiency gains; (3) reversed the court's denial of Rocky Ford's request for declaratory judgment as to Kents Lake's measurement obligations under a 1931 Beaver River Decree, holding that the clarification Rocky Ford sought was warranted; (4) affirmed the court's decision refusing to rescind the agreement entered into by the parties in 1953; and (5) reversed the decision awarding attorney fees to Kents Lake and Beaver City, holding that there was no basis for a determination that Rocky Ford filed or pursued its claims in bad faith. View "Rocky Ford Irrigation Co. v. Kents Lake Reservoir Co." on Justia Law
Salt Lake City Corp. v. Haik
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the district court's dismissal of the Pearl Raty Trust's claim that it is an inhabitant of Salt Lake City and thereby entitled to the City's water under Utah Const. art. XI, 6, holding that the Trust failed to persuade the Court that the Utah voters who ratified the Constitution would have considered it an inhabitant of the City.The Trust sought water for an undeveloped lot it owned in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Although the lot sat in unincorporated Salt Lake County, the lot fell within Salt Lake City's water service area. The court of appeals ruled that the Trust was not an inhabitant of the City because it "merely holds undeveloped property within territory over which the City asserts water rights and extra-territorial jurisdiction." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Trust failed to persuade that the people who ratified the Utah Constitution understood the word "inhabitants" to encompass any person who owned property in a city's approved water service area. View "Salt Lake City Corp. v. Haik" on Justia Law
Rocky Ford Irrigation Co. v. Kents Lake Reservoir Co.
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
Utah Stream Access Coalition v. VR Acquisitions, LLC
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
Rivers v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality
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
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality
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
Friends of Great Salt Lake v. Utah Department of Natural Resources
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
Utah Physicians for a Health Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality
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
Little Cottonwood Tanner Ditch Co. v. Sandy City
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