Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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In these consolidated appeals the Supreme Court denied Respondents' request to withdraw the Chief Justice's certification letter and dismiss the underlying petitions as improvidently granted, holding that the Governor's appointment of two substitute justices to participate in the determination of these cases did not violate due process or due course of law protections.After two of the Supreme Court's nine justices voluntarily recused themselves from the case, the Chief Justice requested that the Governor appoint two qualified justices or judges to participate in the Court's determination of these appeals. Respondents objected, arguing that allowing the Governor to appoint justices would create due process and ethical problems where the State was not a party. The Supreme Court denied Respondents' requests to dismiss the petitions as improvidently granted, holding (1) there was no serious risk of actual bias under Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 556 U.S. 868 (2009); and (2) the Governor's appointment of the two substitute justices did not taint the commissioned justices with the appearance of partiality or impropriety under the Texas ethical rules. View "State v. Audi Aktiengesellschaft" on Justia Law

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In this case's previous trip to the Court of Appeal, the Court reversed the trial court’s judgment overturning a cleanup order issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Valley Region (Regional Board). The cleanup order directed Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) to remediate hazardous waste associated with an abandoned mine in Plumas County. The mine was owned by the Walker Mining Company, a subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest, International Smelting and Refining Company and Anaconda Copper Mining Company (International/Anaconda). The Court of Appeal held the trial court improperly applied the test articulated in United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51 (1998) for determining whether a parent company is directly liable for pollution as an operator of a polluting facility owned by a subsidiary. On remand, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the Regional Board, concluding “[t]he record supported a determination of eccentric control of mining ‘operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.’ ” ARCO appealed, contending: (1) the trial court improperly applied Bestfoods to the facts of this case, resulting in a finding of liability that was unsupported by substantial evidence; (2) the Regional Board abused its discretion by failing to exclude certain expert testimony as speculative; (3) the Regional Board’s actual financial bias in this matter required invalidation of the cleanup order for violation of due process; and (4) the cleanup order erroneously imposed joint and several liability on ARCO. Finding no reversible error to this order, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the Energy Facilities Siting Board approving a project change petition filed by NSTAR Electric Company, doing business as Eversource Energy, that would move the boundaries of an electric substation 190 feet from the location that had previously been approved, holding that the Board did not err in approving the project change.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the Board did not err in determining that GreenRoots, Inc. did not satisfy the applicable legal standard for the reopening of a completed adjudicatory proceeding; (2) the Board complied with the statutory and regulatory requirements regarding public participation and environmental justice; and (3) the Board's conclusion that Eversource reasonably addressed risks from future sea level rise under the circumstances was supported by substantial evidence. View "GreenRoots, Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause allows North Carolina courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over companies that received millions of dollars in assets by E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company (Old DuPont) when the company, facing liability for releasing harmful chemicals into the North Carolina environment over a period of decades, underwent a significant corporate reorganization.North Carolina brought an action against Old DuPont and its corporate successors, asserting negligence, trespass, public nuisance, fraud, and fraudulent transfer related to Old DuPont's use of harmful chemicals at its Fayetteville Works plant and its subsequent reorganization to avoid liability. At issue was whether the Due Process Clause permits jurisdiction to be exercised over a corporate successor when the predecessor is subject to jurisdiction in the forum and state law subjects the successor to liability. The Supreme Court affirmed the business court's denial of Defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that personal jurisdiction could be established through the imputation analysis for all of the State's claims arising out of or related to Old DuPont's activities in North Carolina. View "State ex rel. Stein v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co" on Justia Law

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After the Oregon district court dismissed their initial complaint alleging claims concerning the Plan, two of the three plaintiffs in this action (Friends of the Wild Swan and Alliance for the Wild Rockies) elected not to amend to fix the deficiencies identified in the court’s order. Instead, Plaintiffs appealed, and after losing on appeal, they sought to amend their complaint. The district court denied their motion to amend and found no grounds to reopen the judgment. Rather than appealing that determination, Plaintiffs initiated a new action in the District of Montana raising a challenge to the legality of the Plan. The Montana district court declined to dismiss on the basis of claim preclusion, but granted summary judgment in favor of the Service on the merits of Plaintiffs’ challenges.   The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order amending the opinion filed on September 28, 2022; and (2) an amended opinion affirming the district court’s judgment in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based on claim preclusion in an action brought by plaintiff environmental groups, challenging the Service’s 2015 Bull Trout Recovery Plan (the “Plan”) under the citizen-suit provision of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The court explained that here, the Service offered claim preclusion as an alternate basis for affirming the district court’s judgment. The panel held that because the Service raised claim preclusion before the district court and in its briefing on appeal, the issue was properly before the court. The panel held that Plaintiffs’ challenge to the Plan was precluded because the Oregon litigation was a final judgment on the merits of their claims. View "SAVE THE BULL TROUT, ET AL V. MARTHA WILLIAMS, ET AL" on Justia Law

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After Wisteria Island’s birth, Congress ceded title to all lands within three miles of the United States’s coast to the states, except for lands that were (1) “built up,” “filled in,” “or otherwise reclaimed” (2) by the United States (3) for the United States’s use. We must determine whether Wisteria Island satisfies this exception. Only the third requirement is at issue in this appeal: whether the United States created Wisteria Island for its “use.” Plaintiff-Counterdefendant-Appellee United States says that it created Wisteria Island to store dredged soil. Defendant-Counterclaimant-Appellant F.E.B., which claims to own the island, rejects the United States’s assertion that it built Wisteria Island for its “use.” According to F.E.B., the island arose simply as a result of the United States’s discarding of the soil it dredged from the channel.   The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the United States that, if it created Wisteria Island as a place to store dredged soil, then the United States built up or filled in Wisteria Island for the United States’s use. But on this record, the court found a genuine issue of material fact exists as to why the United States created the island. So after a thorough review of the record and with the benefit of oral argument, the court affirmed in part and vacate in part the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the United States and denial of summary judgment to F.E.B., and remanded this case for a factual determination of why the United States created Wisteria Island. View "USA v. F.E.B. Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Santa Maria Water District (collectively, the “Agencies”) in an action brought by San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and Los Padres ForestWatch (“Plaintiffs”), claiming that the Agencies’ operation of Twitchell Dam interfered with Southern California Steelhead’s reproductive migration, which constituted an unlawful take in violation of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).   The panel held that under PL 774, the Agencies had discretion to release water from Twitchell Dam to avoid take of endangered Southern California Steelhead. The panel held that PL 774 expressly authorized Twitchell Dam to be operated for “other purposes” beyond the enumerated purposes. As a secondary priority, PL 774 also required the Agencies operate the dam substantially in accordance with the Secretary’s Report. The statutory requirement of substantial compliance—rather than strict compliance—with the Secretary’s Report explicitly grants discretion to the Agencies to adjust the dam’s flow rate.   The panel held that this interpretation is buttressed by the principles of statutory construction. Because PL 774 and the ESA can easily be read to work in harmony, it was the panel’s duty to do so. Here, there is no clear Congressional intent to preclude the dam from being operated to avoid take of Southern California Steelhead. There is no implied conflict between PL 774 and the ESA. Twitchell Dam can readily be operated to provide modest releases at certain times of the year and during certain water years, while still satisfying the dam’s primary purpose of conserving water for consumptive purposes. View "SAN LUIS OBISPO COASTKEEPER, ET AL V. SANTA MARIA VALLEY WATER CONSE, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Save the Bull Trout, Friends of the Wild Swan, and Alliance for the Wild Rockies challenge the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“Service”) 2015 Bull Trout Recovery Plan under the citizen-suit provision of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). It is not Plaintiffs’ first time bringing such a challenge. After the Oregon district court dismissed their initial complaint alleging claims concerning the Plan, Plaintiffs elected not to amend to fix the deficiencies identified in the court’s order. Instead, Plaintiffs appealed, and only after losing on appeal did they pursue amending their complaint. The Oregon district court denied their motion to amend, finding no grounds for reopening the judgment.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based on claim preclusion in an action brought by plaintiff environmental groups, challenging the Service’s 2015 Bull Trout Recovery Plan under the citizen-suit provision of the ESA. The panel held that Friends of the Wild Swan and Alliance for the Wild Rockies had standing to challenge the Plan. Plaintiffs asserted a procedural injury. Their member declarations established ongoing aesthetic, recreational, and conservation interests in bull trout. The procedures outlined in Section 1533(f) of the ESA served to protect these interests by requiring the implementation of a bull trout recovery plan. Because Plaintiffs established a procedural injury, they had standing as long as there was some possibility that the requested relief—revision of the Plan— would redress their alleged harms. The panel held that this benchmark was clearly met. View "SAVE THE BULL TROUT, ET AL V. MARTHA WILLIAMS, ET AL" on Justia Law

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While he was consulting on an environmental project for the U.S. Army Reserve Command, Plaintiff believed he was required to prepare an environmental assessment in a manner that violated federal law. Plaintiff was terminated after reporting the suspected illegality to the client and his supervisor at SpecPro. Plaintiff brought statutory and common law claims of retaliation and wrongful termination in a California state court action that was removed to federal court. Plaintiff alleged his employment was terminated in violation of the California Whistleblower Protection Act, Cal. Labor Code Section 1102.5(b), (c).   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff’s former employer, SpecPro Professional Services, LLC, on Plaintiff’s retaliation and wrongful termination claims. The panel first addressed the district court’s determination that Olaintiff’s disclosures to his supervisor were not actionable because the supervisor was not “a person with authority over the employee or another employee who has the authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation or noncompliance.” Second, the panel held that several state court appellate courts have held that disclosures to wrongdoers are protected under section 1102.5(b). The panel reversed the district court’s summary judgment order on section 1102.5(b) retaliation claim. Because his claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy was derivative of his retaliation claim, the panel also reversed the grant of summary judgment on that claim. View "AARON KILLGORE V. SPECPRO PROFESSIONAL SERVICES" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff regularly used Roundup on his lawn for about 30 years until 2016. Around 2016, Plaintiff was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma, which he believes was linked to the compound glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in Roundup. Plaintiff filed suit against Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup. In his four-count complaint, Plaintiff alleged strict liability for a design defect under Georgia law (Count I); strict liability for failure to warn under Georgia law Count II); negligence under Georgia law (Count III); and breach of implied warranties under Georgia law (Count IV).   On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit was tasked with deciding whether the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiff’s failure to warn claim was preempted under Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Ac (FIFRA) because the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) had classified glyphosate as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans and approved the Roundup label. The Eleventh Circuit concluded it did and reversed the district court’s ruling. The court held that Plaintiff’s Georgia failure to warn claim is not preempted by the federal requirements under the FIFRA or the EPA actions pursuant to it. View "John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company" on Justia Law