Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries
Save Our Capitol v. Dept. of General Services
Defendant Department of General Services and real party Joint Committee on Rules of the California State Senate and Assembly (collectively DGS) prepared an environmental impact report (EIR) to determine the environmental effects of a project they proposed that would "significantly" affect the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento (Historic Capitol). Plaintiffs Save Our Capitol! and Save the Capitol, Save the Trees filed petitions for writ of mandate contending the EIR did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court denied the petitions. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing: (1) the EIR lacked a stable project description; (2) the EIR did not adequately analyze and mitigate the project’s impacts on cultural resources, biological resources, aesthetics, traffic, and utilities and service systems; (3) the EIR’s analysis of alternatives to the project was legally deficient; and (4) DGS violated CEQA by not recirculating the EIR a second time before certifying it. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed in part and affirmed in part. The Court found the EIR’s project description, analyses of historical resources and aesthetics, and analysis of alternatives did not comply with CEQA. View "Save Our Capitol v. Dept. of General Services" on Justia Law
Abbott v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.
In the 1950s, DuPont began discharging C-8—a “forever” chemical that accumulates in the human body and the environment—into the Ohio River, landfills, and the air surrounding its West Virginia plant. By the 1960s, DuPont learned that C-8 is toxic to animals and, by the 1980s, that it is potentially a human carcinogen. DuPont’s discharges increased until 2000. Evidence subsequently confirmed that C-8 caused several diseases among those drinking the contaminated water. In a class action lawsuit, DuPont promised to treat the affected water and to fund a scientific process concerning the impact of C-8 exposure. A panel of scientists conducted an approximately seven-year epidemiological study of the blood samples and medical records of more than 69,000 affected community members, while the litigation was paused. The settlement limited the claims that could be brought against DuPont based on the study’s determination of which diseases prevalent in the communities were likely linked to C-8 exposure. The resulting cases were consolidated in multidistrict litigation. After two bellwether trials and a post-bellwether trial reached verdicts against DuPont, the parties settled the remaining cases.More class members filed suit when they became sick or discovered the connection between their diseases and C-8. In this case, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the application of collateral estoppel to specific issues that were unanimously resolved in the three prior jury trials, the exclusion of certain evidence based on the initial settlement agreement, and rejection of DuPont’s statute-of-limitations defense.. View "Abbott v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law
Otter Creek Solar, LLC, et al. v. Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, et al.
Plaintiffs, the developer of a solar electric generation facility and the owner of the project site, appealed the dismissal of their complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). Plaintiffs sought a ruling that two guidance documents and a plant-classification system created by ANR were unlawful and therefore could not be relied upon by ANR or the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in determining whether to issue a certificate of public good for a proposed facility under 30 V.S.A. § 248. The civil division granted ANR’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that the guidance documents and classification system were not rules and did not have the force of law, and that the proper forum to challenge the policies was in the PUC proceeding. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Otter Creek Solar, LLC, et al. v. Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, et al." on Justia Law
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF TOXIC, ET AL V. CENTURY INDEMNITY COMPANY, ET AL
the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Toxic Substances Control Account (“DTSC”) brought suit under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and state law relating to the remediation of hazardous materials alleged to be present at a site in Elmira, California. In 2013, a certificate of cancellation had been filed with the Delaware Secretary of State, cancelling the legal existence of defendant Collins & Aikman Products. The Delaware Court of Chancery granted DTSC’s petition to appoint a receiver empowered to defend claims made against Collins & Aikman. The receiver declined to file an answer to DTSC’s complaint, and the district court clerk entered default under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a). DTSC later moved for a default judgment. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s order denying insurers’ motions to intervene to defend their defunct insured in an environmental tort action, dismissed the insurers' appeal of the denial of their motions to set aside default, and remanded. Here, there was no dispute that the insurers timely sought to intervene in. Thus, whether the insureds could intervene as of right turned on whether they had an “interest” under Rule 24(a)(2). The panel held that, under Donaldson v. United States and Wilderness Soc’y v. U.S. Forest Serv, the word “interest” must be read in a specifically legal sense, to mean a right or other advantage that the law gives one person as against another person, rather than read more broadly to refer to anything that a person wants, whether or not the law protects that desire. View "CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF TOXIC, ET AL V. CENTURY INDEMNITY COMPANY, ET AL" on Justia Law
Save Lafayette v. City of Lafayette
O’Brien submitted an application in March 2011 for approval of a 315-unit residential apartment development. O’Brien’s application was deemed complete in July 2011, including 14 residential buildings, a clubhouse, a leasing office, parking in carports and garages, and internal roadways on a 22.27-acre site. The site was then designated Administrative/Professional/Multi-Family Residential on the city’s general-plan land-use map and was zoned Administrative/Professional. The city certified an environmental impact report (EIR) in 2013. Before the project was approved, O’Brien and the city suspended processing the original project while O’Brien pursued an alternative, smaller proposal.In 2018, when it proved impossible to proceed with the alternative project, O’Brien and the city revived the original proposal, with some modifications. The city finally approved the resumed project in 2020, after the preparation of an addendum to the original EIR. A citizen’s group claimed that the project conflicted with the city’s general plan as it existed when the project was revived in 2018, that the EIR was inadequate, and that a supplemental EIR is required. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of the mandamus petition. Despite the lengthy delay between certification of the EIR and project approval, the city properly applied the general plan standards in effect when the application was deemed complete. The court rejected challenges to the EIR. View "Save Lafayette v. City of Lafayette" on Justia Law
Pfeil Acquisitions LLC v. Gallatin County Conservation District
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court affirming the decision of the Board of Supervisors of the Gallatin Conservation District (GCD) that a waterway within property owned by Appellant constituted a "natural, perennial-flowing stream" under the Natural Steambed and Land Preservation Act of 1975 (the 310 Law), holding that the district court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that GCD properly exercised its discretion in evaluating the entirety of the record, including historical evidence, when deciding whether the waterway on Appellant's property fell within the conservation district's jurisdiction; and (2) did not erroneously uphold GCD's determination that substantial evidence supported its conclusion that the waterway constituted a natural perennial-flowing stream as set forth in the 310 Law. View "Pfeil Acquisitions LLC v. Gallatin County Conservation District" on Justia Law
In re: Center for Biological Diversity, et al.
The Environmental Protection Agency registered a new pesticide without first determining, as required by the Endangered Species Act, whether it would have an adverse effect on endangered species. Then, five years ago, the DC Circuit Court ordered EPA to fulfill that statutory obligation. Notwithstanding Congress’s mandate and the court’s order, EPA has failed to make the required determination. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety sought the only legal relief left that would force the EPA to comply with the statute: a writ of mandamus. The DC Circuit granted the writ. The court explained that the mandamus petition, in this case, arises from relatively unique circumstances that implicate two distinct sources of mandamus jurisdiction under the All Writs Act: the court’s power to compel unreasonably delayed agency activity and its power to require compliance with our previously issued orders. Further, weighing in favor mandamus is the potential threat cyantraniliprole poses to endangered species. Moreover, the court explained that whether EPA’s internal deadline demonstrates that it is acting in good faith is beside the point. The court need not find bad faith to find unreasonable delay. Thus, the court ordered the EPA to its previous order with an order consistent with the ESA by September 2023. EPA is directed to submit status updates every 60 days between now and September 2023. The court explained that should EPA fail to meet its September deadline, Petitioners are free to renew their motion for vacatur of cyantraniliprole’s registration order. View "In re: Center for Biological Diversity, et al." on Justia Law
Dept. of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates
This appeal centered whether Section 6 of the California Constitution required the state to reimburse the defendant local governments (collectively permittees or copermittees) for costs they incurred to satisfy conditions which the state imposed on their stormwater discharge permit. Defendant-respondent Commission on State Mandates (the Commission) determined that six of the eight permit conditions challenged in this action were reimbursable state mandates. They required permittees to provide a new program. Permittees also did not have sufficient legal authority to levy a fee for those conditions because doing so required preapproval by the voters. The Commission also determined that the other two conditions requiring the development and implementation of environmental mitigation plans for certain new development were not reimbursable state mandates. Permittees had authority to levy a fee for those conditions. On petitions for writ of administrative mandate, the trial court upheld the Commission’s decision in its entirety and denied the petitions. Plaintiffs, cross-defendants and appellants State Department of Finance, the State Water Resources Board, and the Regional Water Quality Board, San Diego Region (collectively the State) appealed, contending the six permit conditions found to be reimbursable state mandates were not mandates because the permit did not require permittees to provide a new program and permittees had authority to levy fees for those conditions without obtaining voter approval. Except to hold that the street sweeping condition was not a reimburseable mandate, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Dept. of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law
Bull Field, LLC v. Merced Irrigation Dist.
Appellants Bull Field, LLC, Barley, LLC and Colburn Hills Ranch, LLC (Appellants) appeal from a judgment denying their petition for a writ of mandate (Petition). Appellants sought an order compelling respondent Merced Irrigation District (District) to sell them surplus surface water for the 2019 water year. Appellants’ farmland is outside the District, but within the same groundwater basin as the District’s service area. The District authorized the sale of surplus water to out-of-district users for 2019 but denied Appellants’ application to purchase such water. The District claimed, and the trial court found, that the District’s general manager denied Appellants’ applications to purchase surplus surface water because the District had a history of difficult dealings with Appellants’ manager. Substantial evidence supports that finding. The Second Appellate District affirmed, finding that District acted within its discretion in making its decision on this ground. The court explained that the court may not interfere with the District’s discretionary decision that denying Appellants’ applications to purchase surplus water was in its best interest. The court may not substitute its judgment for the District about how its interests would best be served. So long as the District actually exercised such discretion, this court may not issue a writ contravening the District’s decision. View "Bull Field, LLC v. Merced Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law
State v. Audi Aktiengesellschaft
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