Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

by
Mandamus petitions before the Alabama Supreme Court presented a question of whether the Cherokee Circuit Court and the Etowah Circuit Court (collectively, "the trial courts") could properly exercise personal jurisdiction over the petitioners, out-of-state companies (collectively, the defendants) in actions filed against them by the Water Works and Sewer Board of the Town of Centre ("Centre Water") and the Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Gadsden ("Gadsden Water"). Centre Water and Gadsden Water alleged the defendants discharged toxic chemicals into industrial wastewater from their plants in Georgia, which subsequently contaminated Centre Water's and Gadsden Water's downstream water sources in Alabama. After moving unsuccessfully in the trial courts to have the actions against them dismissed, the defendants filed petitions for writs of mandamus seeking orders from the Alabama Supreme Court directing the trial courts to dismiss the actions against them based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court consolidated all the petitions for the purpose of issuing one opinion. Because Indian Summer, Kaleen, and Milliken made a prima facie showing that the trial courts lacked specific personal jurisdiction and Centre Water and Gadsden Water failed to produce any evidence to contradict that showing, the trial courts should have granted their motions to dismiss. Indian Summer, Kaleen, and Milliken have, therefore, demonstrated a clear legal right to the relief sought –- dismissal of Gadsden Water's and Centre Water's complaints against them –- and the petitions for a writ of mandamus in case nos. 1170887, 1171197, and 1171199 were granted. The Supreme Court concluded the trial courts could exercise specific personal jurisdiction over the remaining defendants, and that the remaining defendants did not demonstrated a clear legal right to relief at this stage. View "Ex parte Kaleen Rugs, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The County and other parties filed a complaint in the district court claiming that DOT exceeded its authority under 26 U.S.C. 142(m)(1)(A) when it allocated $1.15 billion in Private Activity Bond (PABs) to fund Phase II of the AAF Project. The complaint also alleged that the allocation violated 26 U.S.C. 147(f), and challenged the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by the FRA under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the County's interest were within the zone of interests protected by section 142 and thus the complaint raised claims that were cognizable under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). However, the court held that DOT permissibly and reasonably determined that the Project qualified for tax-exempt PAB financing under section 142(m), and that the EIS for the Project did not violate NEPA. View "Indian River County v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

by
Defendant the City of Sacramento (City) approved and adopted a 2035 General Plan in March 2015. At the same time, the City certified the environmental impact report (EIR) for the 2035 General Plan in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. Plaintiff Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation (Citizens) filed a petition for writ of mandate and injunctive relief and a complaint for declaratory relief (petition) against the City and its city council seeking to set aside both administrative actions. The trial court denied the petition, upholding both actions; Citizens appealed, challenging the validity of the 2035 General Plan and the EIR. It contends the Court of Appeal should vacate the trial court’s ruling regarding the 2035 General Plan and order the City to rescind its approval thereof because a sentence in the introductory paragraph violated and conflicted with state planning laws. Citizens also argued the Court should do the same as to the EIR because the City’s analyses pertaining to traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, cyclist safety, and the “no project” alternative failed to comply with CEQA, and the City was required to recirculate the EIR after releasing substantial supplemental changes shortly before the city council’s public hearing. Finding no merit in Citizens’s arguments, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation v. City of Sacramento" on Justia Law

by
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

by
Stephen Taylor was convicted by jury of numerous sex offenses against his adopted daughters, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. In total, the jury convicted him on 12 counts. The trial court sentenced him to prison for a one-year determinate term and an aggregate indeterminate term of 165 years to life. On appeal, Taylor argued the trial court erred by admitting expert testimony on child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, and instructing the jurors that they could use that evidence to evaluate the victims’ credibility. He also claimed the court made several sentencing errors: (1) by imposing two indeterminate terms under the former “One Strike” law for two offenses that occurred during a single occasion; (2) by imposing multiple punishments for four counts of aggravated sexual assault and four counts of lewd acts arising from the same facts; and (3) by imposing a restitution fine and court operations and facilities fees without an ability to pay hearing. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court erred by imposing multiple punishments on four counts of aggravated sexual assault (counts 1 through 4) and four counts of forcible lewd acts (counts 5 through 8) that arose from the same conduct. Accordingly, Taylor’s sentence was stayed on counts 5 through 8. The Court also agreed the court should hold an ability to pay hearing, at least as to the court operations and facilities fees. Therefore, the Court reversed the order imposing those fees and remanded for a hearing on Taylor’s ability to pay them. As to the restitution fine, Taylor forfeited his contention. The Court otherwise rejected Taylor’s arguments and affirmed. View "Holden v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

by
Commercial crab traps must have a destruction device so that trapped wildlife can escape if the trap is lost or abandoned. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was patrolling Monterey Bay and saw crab trap buoys in the Soquel Canyon State Marine Conservation Area, where crab trapping is prohibited. Each of 29 traps was attached to a buoy bearing Wetle’s license number and had a tag bearing the Dungeness crab permit number belonging to Wetles. In some pulled traps, the bait jar was placed to prevent the destruction device from operating. The crew put a note to call the warden in a trap and returned it to the water. Bond, the skipper of the fishing vessel owned by Wetle’s father and Wetle’s wife, responded. Bond had previously been convicted of three felonies and five misdemeanors. Wetle was convicted under California Code of Regulations 14 section 632(a)(1)(C) and section 180.2 (Fish and Game Code 12000(a)). The appellate division of the Monterey County Superior Court affirmed. The court of appeal reversed, noting Wetle’s evidence that he was out of the country at the time the traps were placed. The trial court committed prejudicial instructional error. It did not instruct jurors that they must find that the defendant himself used the defective trap, which is an element of the offense View "People v. Wetle" on Justia Law

by
Years of heavy industrial use at Wisconsin's Badger Army Ammunition Plant contaminated the soil and groundwater with asbestos, lead paint, PCBs, and oil. Operations ceased in 1975. Remediation has yielded thousands of acres suitable for recreational use. The National Park Service donated 3,000 acres to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. An environmental group sued to halt three activities at the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area: dog training for hunting, off-road motorcycle riding, and helicopter drills by the Wisconsin National Guard citing the Property and Administrative Services Act, which controls deeds issued through the Federal Land to Parks Program, 40 U.S.C. 550. The Act requires the government to enforce the terms of its deeds and that the land be used for recreational purposes. The relevant deeds require that Wisconsin use the park for its originally intended purposes. Dog training and motorcycle riding were not mentioned in Wisconsin’s initial application. The group also argued that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321, required an environmental impact statement. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment. Dog training and off-road motorcycle riding were not mentioned in the application, but are recreational uses. While helicopter training is not recreational, the Service included an explicit deed provision reserving the right to continue the flights, as authorized by the Property Act. The Service reasonably concluded that its approval of dog training and motorcycle riding fell within a NEPA categorical exclusion for minor amendments to an existing plan. The Service was not required to prepare an environmental impact statement for helicopter training because it had no authority to discontinue the flights. View "Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

by
Sturgell was a commercial fisher for 48 years. He held Dungeness crab permits in Washington, Oregon, and California. During the 2012–2013 season, Sturgell landed 203,045 pounds of crab in California. Sturgell’s taking of crab in California before the delayed opening of the Oregon crab fishery meant he was required to wait until January 30, 2013, before taking, possessing, or landing that crab in Oregon. He could take crab in Washington on January 24. On January 29, Sturgell arrived in Astoria, Oregon to offload the crabs he had taken in Washington. He began to offload crabs at 6:15 p.m and offloaded 38,295 pounds; the balance of the 64,694 total offload was completed by 4:00 a.m. on January 30. A “Receiving Ticket,” indicating the “date of landing” as January 29, 2013, was signed by Sturgell and the buyer. The buyer later stated that this was “in error” as the ticket was actually written, “between 4[:00] a.m. and 5[:00] a.m. on January 30, 2013, after the offload was completed.” Pursuant to Fish and Game Code section 8043, a landing receipt “shall be completed at the time of the receipt, purchase, or transfer of fish.” Sturgell’s permit was revoked. The trial court ordered the permit reinstated. The court of appeal dismissed the agency’s appeal as moot, with instructions that the trial court vacate its decision. Sturgill had retired and sold his permit for over $500,000. The Department approved the transfer. View "Sturgell v. Department of Fish and Wildlife" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed suit against federal and state agencies in a dispute over the widening of Interstate Highway 630, alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., and NEPA's implementing regulations, 40 C.F.R. 1500-1508. Determining that it had jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of injunctive relief, holding that plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims. In this case, plaintiffs failed to show that the FHWA's determination that the project qualifies for a categorical exclusion from NEPA requirements because the project takes place entirely within the existing operational right-of-way was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law. View "Wise v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

by
Under Water Code section 13304, a prior owner of property may be required to participate in the cleanup of wastes discharged from its property that resulted in groundwater contamination if that person “caused or permitted” the discharge. The San Francisco Regional Board named UATC in a cleanup order addressing waste discharges from dry cleaning operations at a shopping center owned by UATC in the 1960s and 1970s. The court of appeal reversed, in favor of the Board. The knowledge component of the statutory element of “permitted” focuses on the landlord’s awareness of a risk of discharge: a prior owner may be named in a section 13304 cleanup order upon a showing the owner knew or should have known that a lessee’s activity created a reasonable possibility of a discharge of wastes into waters of the state that could create or threaten to create a condition of pollution or nuisance. The court rejected UATC’s argument that its liability was discharged in a 2000 bankruptcy reorganization proceeding. Even assuming the Regional Board’s entitlement to a cleanup order was a claim within the meaning of bankruptcy law, it was not discharged in UATC’s bankruptcy proceeding because it did not arise before confirmation of reorganization. View "United Artists Theater Circuit, Inc. v. Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Region" on Justia Law