Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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Citizen groups challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) environmental assessments (“EAs”) and environmental assessment addendum analyzing the environmental impact of 370 applications for permits to drill (“APDs”) for oil and gas in the Mancos Shale and Gallup Sandstone formations in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico. These challenges came after a separate but related case in which the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate five EAs analyzing the impacts of APDs in the area because BLM had failed to consider the cumulative environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). BLM prepared an EA Addendum to remedy the defects in those five EAs, as well as potential defects in eighty-one other EAs that also supported approvals of APDs in the area. Citizen Groups argued these eighty-one EAs and the EA Addendum violated NEPA because BLM: (1) improperly predetermined the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (2) failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals related to greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, water resources, and air quality. BLM disagreed, contending the challenges to some of the APDs were not justiciable because the APDs had not yet been approved. The district court affirmed the agency action, determining: (1) Citizen Groups’ claims based on APD’s that had not been approved were not ripe for judicial review; (2) BLM did not unlawfully predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (3) BLM took a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals. The Tenth Circuit agreed with BLM and the district court that the unapproved APDs were not ripe and accordingly, limited its review to the APDs that had been approved. Turning to Citizen Groups’ two primary arguments on the merits, the appellate court held: (1) BLM did not improperly predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum, but, even considering that addendum; (2) BLM’s analysis was arbitrary and capricious because it failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts from GHG emissions and hazardous air pollutant emissions. However, the Court concluded BLM’s analysis of the cumulative impacts to water resources was sufficient under NEPA. View "Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law

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The Jenkinses bought a one-bedroom home, built in 1909, with a small accessory cottage in San Anselmo. Following conversations with an architect, contractors, and the Town Planning Director, they sought permits to demolish the existing structures and build a new home with a detached studio. The Planning Commission approved the project. The Jenkinses nevertheless worked with neighbors to accommodate their concerns and submitted revised plans, which were also approved. Four individuals unsuccessfully appealed to the Town Council. Attorney Brandt-Hawley filed a mandamus petition on behalf of an unincorporated association and an individual, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), although the appeal did not include any CEQA claim and CEQA has a categorical exemption for single-family homes, and “violation of the Town Municipal Code,” without citation.The trial judge denied the petition, criticizing aspects of Brandt-Hawley’s briefing and advocacy. Petitioners appealed, then offered to dismiss the appeal for a waiver of fees and costs. The Jenkinses rejected the offer. On the day the opening brief was due, Brandt-Hawley dismissed the appeal. The Jenkinses sued Brandt-Hawley for malicious prosecution. The court denied Brandt-Hawley’s special anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike. The court of appeal affirmed. The Jenkinses met their burden under step two of the anti-SLAPP procedure demonstrating a probability of success on their complaint. View "Jenkins v. Brandt-Hawley" on Justia Law

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Before registering a pesticide, EPA must consult with the statutorily specified agencies that have expertise on risks to species’ survival. But for decades, the EPA skipped that step when it registered pesticides, including those at issue in this case. After the EPA went ahead and approved the five registrations, the Conservation Groups petitioned the D.C. Circuit court to invalidate them. The parties then jointly requested that the court hold the petitions in abeyance to allow for settlement negotiations.The parties arrived at the terms of a settlement allowing the registrations to stand if EPA fulfills core ESA obligations by agreed deadlines. As a condition of their settlement agreement’s binding effect, the parties then jointly moved for an Order returning the cases to abeyance until the specified deadlines to afford EPA time to comply with the parties’ settlement terms.The D.C. Circuit agreed with the Order of Consent and held in the case in abeyance. However, the court dismisses as moot the challenge to the registration of cuprous iodide based on the parties’ report that EPA has complied to their satisfaction with the proposed settlement regarding that pesticide ingredient. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of seventeen environmental organizations, sued the Council on Environmental Quality in July 2020 related to the Trump Administration’s promulgation of a final rule that affected how federal agencies would conduct reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. On appeal the issue is whether the district court had jurisdiction to consider this particular challenge, as Plaintiffs have chosen to frame it, at this stage.   The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that it did not have jurisdiction. The court explained that Plaintiffs argue that forcing them to litigate their claims one project at a time will be time- and resource-intensive, for them and for the courts. Certainly, it would be more efficient for the parties and the courts if the court could adjudicate the 2020 Rule in one preemptive fell swoop. But such efficiency concerns cannot generate jurisdiction. They just will need to bring such a challenge under circumstances where they can present evidence sufficient to support federal-court jurisdiction. View "Wild Virginia v. Council on Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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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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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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