Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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The case involves Aerie Point Holdings, LLC (Aerie Point) and Vorsteveld Farm, LLC (Vorsteveld). Aerie Point owns a property in Panton, Vermont, which is located downhill from Vorsteveld's dairy farm. In 2017, Vorsteveld began installing tile drains in its fields to improve soil quality. The excess water drained from these tiles was discharged into public ditches, then through culverts, and finally towards Lake Champlain over Aerie Point’s property. This led to increased water flow, sediment, and contaminants on Aerie Point's land, causing shoreline erosion and algae blooms in Lake Champlain. In April 2020, Aerie Point filed a lawsuit against Vorsteveld for trespass and nuisance.The civil division found in favor of Aerie Point in March 2022, concluding that Vorsteveld's actions constituted trespass and nuisance. The court issued an injunction in August 2022, preventing Vorsteveld from allowing water from its drain tile system to flow into the public ditches and culverts on Arnold Bay Road. Vorsteveld did not appeal this judgment.In August 2023, Vorsteveld moved for relief from the judgment under Rule 60(b)(5) and (6), arguing that postjudgment changes in fact and law justified relief from the injunction. Vorsteveld claimed that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation regarding filled wetlands on the farm prevented it from complying with the injunction, and that the federal investigation/enforcement action preempted the state injunction. Vorsteveld also argued that changes to Vermont’s Right-to-Farm law justified relief from the injunction. The court denied the motion and the request for an evidentiary hearing.On appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Vorsteveld's arguments were attempts to relitigate issues that had been resolved by the judgment. The court also found that Vorsteveld had not demonstrated that there were significant postjudgment changes in factual circumstances or the law that made prospective application of the injunction inequitable. The court concluded that Vorsteveld's arguments relating to the EPA investigation and changes to the Right-to-Farm law were insufficient to merit relief under Rule 60(b). The court also found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Vorsteveld's request for an evidentiary hearing. View "Aerie Point Holdings, LLC v. Vorsteveld Farm, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over a proposed project to significantly alter the California State Capitol complex. The plaintiff, Save the Capitol, Save the Trees (Save the Capitol), appealed against an order discharging a peremptory writ of mandate issued by the trial court. The writ was issued following a previous court decision that found an environmental impact report (EIR) for the project, prepared by the defendant Department of General Services and the Joint Committee on Rules of the California State Senate and Assembly (collectively DGS), failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The writ directed DGS to vacate in part its certification of the EIR and all associated project approvals, and to file a final return to the writ “upon certification of a revised EIR.”The trial court had previously denied two petitions for writ of mandate, one sought by Save the Capitol and the other by an organization named Save Our Capitol!. The Court of Appeal reversed in part and affirmed in part the trial court’s denial. On remand, the trial court issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing DGS to vacate in part its certification of the EIR and all associated project approvals. After DGS partially vacated its certification of the EIR and all associated project approvals, it revised, recirculated, and certified the revised final EIR. DGS then partially reapproved the project without one of the project components, the visitor center. DGS thereafter filed its final return and the trial court discharged the writ, over plaintiff’s objection, without determining whether the revised final EIR remedied the CEQA violations the Court of Appeal had identified in its opinion.In the Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District, Save the Capitol argued that the discharge of the writ was premature because the writ not only required DGS to revise and recirculate the defective portions of the EIR, but also to certify a revised EIR consistent with the previous court decision before the writ could be discharged. The court agreed with Save the Capitol, concluding that the trial court must determine that the revised EIR is consistent with the previous court decision before discharging the writ. The court reversed the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Save the Capitol, Save the Trees v. Dept. of General Services" on Justia Law

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The case involves StarLink Logistics, Inc. ("StarLink") and ACC, LLC ("ACC"). StarLink owns land adjacent to and downstream from ACC's land, where ACC used to operate a landfill for byproducts of aluminum recycling. StarLink alleged that ACC's improperly closed landfill was polluting StarLink’s land. After StarLink initiated its suit, ACC and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (“Department”) finalized a consent order requiring ACC to abate the landfill’s pollution. The district court dismissed StarLink’s claims for lack of jurisdiction and granted summary judgment to ACC as to its remaining claims.The district court dismissed StarLink’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief as moot and granted summary judgment to ACC as to StarLink’s claims for civil penalties. The court also dismissed StarLink’s claims for failure to meet the Clean Water Act’s and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s jurisdictional notice requirements.The United States Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment. The court held that StarLink can proceed with Count 2 and to seek remediation of its property for Count 5 of its complaint. As to Counts 1, 3, and 4, the court agreed with the district court’s claim preclusion and notice rulings. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. View "StarLink Logistics, Inc. v. ACC, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around an oil spill caused by Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. (Plains). The spill resulted in the unlawful discharge of over 142,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean and onto a beach. The trial court considered restitution for four groups of claimants who alleged losses due to the spill. The People of the State of California appealed the denial of restitution for claimants in two of these groups.The trial court had previously ruled that oil industry claimants were not direct victims of Plains' crimes and accepted mediated settlements in lieu of restitution. It also denied restitution to fishers based on a pending class action lawsuit, declined to consider aggregate proof presented by fishers, and refused to consider Plains' criminal conduct.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Six held that restitution could not be denied based on mediated civil settlements or a class action lawsuit. However, it upheld the trial court's decision to deny restitution to fishers and oil industry workers, stating that they were not direct victims of the pipeline shutdown after the spill. The court remanded the case for consideration of restitution for four fisher claims, but in all other respects, it affirmed the trial court's decision and denied the writ petition. View "People v. Plains All American Pipeline, L.P." on Justia Law

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The Center for a Sustainable Coast and its member, Karen Grainey, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alleging that the Corps had issued a dock permit without a full environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Center claimed that several of its members regularly visit Cumberland Island, where the dock is located, and suffer an ongoing aesthetic injury due to the dock's presence. The Center argued that the environmental review the Corps skipped could have protected that interest.The district court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that the Center did not have standing because its harm was not redressable. The court reasoned that since the dock had already been built, the court’s ability to provide relief had ended along with construction.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the Center had standing to bring at least one of its procedural rights claims. The court reasoned that the Center had identified a concrete aesthetic interest and pleaded that the NEPA process would protect that interest. Directing full NEPA review would thus redress the Center’s procedural injury. Furthermore, the permit issued by the Corps authorized not just the construction of the dock, but also its continued existence. Therefore, the case was not moot because the challenged project was already completed. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the Seashore Act claim, as the Center abandoned that argument on appeal. View "Center for a Sustainable Coast v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The case involves a challenge by the Sierra Club to the pre-construction permits issued by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) to Commonwealth LNG, LLC for its planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility. The Sierra Club argued that the facility’s emissions would exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and that LDEQ failed to require Commonwealth to use the best available control technology (BACT) to limit those emissions.Before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, LDEQ argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, asserting that the claim arose under state law, not federal law. However, the court found that it had jurisdiction to review the petition because when LDEQ issued the permit, it was acting pursuant to federal law, not merely state law.On the merits, the court found that LDEQ did not act arbitrarily in its use of significant impact levels (SILs) to calculate which pollutants will have an insignificant effect on the NAAQS. The court also found that LDEQ did not act arbitrarily in its use of AP-42 emission factors to determine potential emissions from an LNG facility that has not yet been built. Furthermore, the court held that LDEQ did not violate its public trustee duty under Louisiana law, which requires LDEQ to evaluate and avoid adverse environmental impacts to the maximum extent possible.The court denied Sierra Club’s petition for review and affirmed LDEQ’s permitting decision. View "Sierra Club v. Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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In 2022, the California Legislature directed Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to extend operations at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, despite PG&E's previous plans to cease operations. However, the deadline for a federal license renewal application for continued operation had already passed. PG&E requested an exemption from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to this deadline, which the NRC granted. The NRC found that the exemption was authorized by law, would not pose an undue risk to public health and safety, and that special circumstances were present. The NRC also concluded that the exemption met the eligibility criteria for a categorical exclusion, meaning no additional environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act was required.Three non-profit organizations, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Friends of the Earth, and the Environmental Working Group, petitioned for review of the NRC's decision. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals first addressed whether it had jurisdiction to hear a direct appeal from an NRC exemption decision. The court held that it did have jurisdiction, as the substance of the exemption was ancillary or incidental to a licensing proceeding. The court also concluded that the petitioners had Article III standing to bring the case, as they alleged a non-speculative potential harm from age-related safety and environmental risks, demonstrated that Diablo Canyon would likely continue operations beyond its initial 40-year license term, and alleged members’ proximity to the facility.On the merits, the court held that the NRC’s decision to grant the exemption was not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law. The court also held that the NRC did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in invoking the National Environmental Policy Act categorical exclusion when issuing the exemption decision. The court concluded that the NRC was not required to provide a hearing or meet other procedural requirements before issuing the exemption decision because the exemption was not a licensing proceeding. The court denied the petition for review. View "SAN LUIS OBISPO MOTHERS FOR PEACE V. UNITED STATES NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION" on Justia Law

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A landowner in Blaine County, Idaho, John Hastings Jr., made unauthorized alterations to the Big Wood River. The Idaho Department of Water Resources (the Department) issued a notice of violation to Hastings and ordered him to cease all unauthorized work and submit a plan for river restoration. Hastings and the Department entered into a consent order, which required Hastings to pay a civil penalty and submit a restoration plan. However, the Department rejected Hastings' proposed restoration plans. Hastings then filed a petition for a hearing to express his disagreement with the terms of the Department's conditional approval for a permit.The Department initiated an administrative proceeding against Hastings, and later filed a counterclaim in Hastings's district court action seeking specific performance, which would require Hastings to comply with the Consent Order. Hastings asserted that the Department's enforcement action was barred by the two-year statute of limitations set forth in Idaho Code section 42-3809. The district court granted summary judgment to the Department on the statute of limitations issue, and Hastings appealed.The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the Department's enforcement action was not time-barred by the statute of limitations under Idaho Code section 42-3809. The court found that the earliest possible date that the Department “ought to have reasonably known” that Hastings did not intend to comply with the Consent Order was when he filed the underlying declaratory judgment action. Until then, Hastings was in compliance with the Consent Order and had given every indication that he was attempting to remain in compliance. Therefore, the Department was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law on this issue. View "Hastings v. IDWR" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over Montana's laws authorizing recreational wolf and coyote trapping and snaring. The plaintiffs, Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force and WildEarth Guardians, alleged that these laws allowed the unlawful "take" of grizzly bears, a threatened species, in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The district court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, limiting wolf trapping and snaring in certain parts of Montana to a specific period in 2024.The defendants, the State of Montana, the Chair of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the Governor, appealed the decision. They argued that the district court had erred by considering new arguments and materials submitted with the plaintiffs' reply brief, by applying the wrong preliminary injunction standard, and by finding a reasonably certain threat of imminent harm to grizzly bears.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in part and vacated it in part. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by considering new arguments and materials, as the defendants had an opportunity to respond. The court also held that the district court applied the correct preliminary injunction standard and did not abuse its discretion in finding serious questions going to the merits of the plaintiffs' claim.However, the court found that the injunction was geographically overbroad and remanded the case for the district court to reconsider the geographic scope. The court also held that the injunction was overbroad because it prevented the State of Montana from trapping and snaring wolves for research. The court vacated that part of the injunction and remanded the case for the district court to make proper modifications to the scope of its order. View "FLATHEAD-LOLO-BITTERROOT CITIZEN TASK FORCE V. STATE OF MONTANA" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over a parcel of land within the Rio Grande National Forest in Colorado, owned by Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV). The land, obtained through a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in 1987, was intended for development into a ski resort village. However, access to the parcel was hindered due to a gravel road managed by the USFS that was unusable by vehicles in the winter.In 2007, LMJV invoked the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), claiming it required the USFS to grant access to inholdings within USFS land. The USFS initially proposed a second land exchange with LMJV to secure access to Highway 160. However, this proposal was challenged by several conservation groups under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 2017, the district court vacated the USFS decision and remanded to the agency.The USFS then considered a new alternative in the form of a right-of-way easement to LMJV across USFS land between the Parcel and Highway 160. The USFS consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to secure a new biological opinion (BiOp) and incidental take statement (ITS) for the proposed action in 2018. The USFS then issued a final Record of Decision (ROD) in 2019, approving the easement.The conservation groups challenged this latest ROD under NEPA, the ESA, and ANILCA. The district court vacated and remanded under the law of the case doctrine, concluding that it was bound by the reasoning of the district court’s 2017 order. The Agencies appealed the district court’s decision vacating the 2018 BiOp and 2019 ROD.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s order and affirmed the Agencies’ decisions. The court concluded that it had jurisdiction over the matter under the practical finality rule, and that the Conservation Groups had standing. The court held that the district court incorrectly applied the law of the case doctrine because the Agencies considered a different alternative when issuing the 2019 ROD. The court also concluded that ANILCA requires the USFS to grant access to the LMJV Parcel. The court determined that even if the Conservation Groups could show error under NEPA, they had not shown that any alleged error was harmful. Finally, the court held that the Conservation Groups failed to successfully challenge the 2018 BiOp under the ESA, and that the Agencies correctly allowed the ITS to cover not only the proposed easement, but also LMJV’s proposed development. View "Rocky Mountain Wild v. Dallas" on Justia Law