Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
The Estate of Richard S. Daniels, by and through Julie Lyford in her capacity as Executor et al.
Plaintiff Richard Daniels appealed a trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Attorney James Goss, Attorney Matthew Hart, and law firm Facey Goss & McPhee P.C. (FGM), arguing the court erred when it concluded he could not prove defendants caused his injury as a matter of law. Defendants represented plaintiff in a state environmental enforcement action where he was found liable for a hazardous-waste contamination on his property. On appeal, plaintiff claimed defendants failed to properly raise two dispositive defenses: the statute of limitations and proportional liability. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiff would not have prevailed on either defense if raised and therefore affirmed the grant of judgment to defendants. View "The Estate of Richard S. Daniels, by and through Julie Lyford in her capacity as Executor et al." on Justia Law
Ocean Street Extension Neighborhood etc. v. City of Santa Cruz
In 2010, real parties in interest applied to the City of Santa Cruz to construct a 40-unit development on a parcel of land located at 1930 Ocean Street Extension. Following an initial mitigated negative declaration and years of litigation surrounding the impact of the nearby crematory at Santa Cruz Memorial Park, in 2016, the real parties in interest renewed their interest in moving forward with their project. As required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the project applicant and the City of Santa Cruz prepared and circulated the initial study, the draft environmental impact report (EIR), the partially recirculated draft EIR, and the final EIR. Following a public hearing, the city council adopted a resolution to certify the EIR and to adopt Alternative 3, a 32-unit housing project. The Ocean Street Extension Neighborhood Association (OSENA) filed a petition for writ of mandamus, alleging the City of Santa Cruz and its city council violated CEQA and the Santa Cruz Municipal Code in approving the project. The trial court concluded the City had complied with CEQA, but it determined the City violated the municipal code, and it issued a limited writ prohibiting the City from allowing the project to proceed unless and until it followed the municipal code and the court was satisfied with its compliance. Following entry of judgment, OSENA appealed, arguing the court erred by concluding the City complied with CEQA’s requirements. OSENA contended the City violated CEQA by: (1) insufficiently addressing potentially significant biological impacts and mitigation measures in the initial study rather than in the EIR directly; (2) establishing improperly narrow and unreasonable objectives so that alternative options could not be considered meaningfully; and (3) failing to address cumulative impacts adequately. The City cross-appealed, contending the court incorrectly concluded it violated the municipal code by granting a planned development permit without also requiring the project applicant to comply with the slope modifications regulations After review, the Court of Appeal agreed with the City, and affirmed that portion of the trial court's order and judgment concluding it complied with CEQA. The Court reversed the portion of the order and judgment concluding the City violated its municipal code. View "Ocean Street Extension Neighborhood etc. v. City of Santa Cruz" on Justia Law
West Virginia State University Board of Governors v. The Dow Chemical Co.
The federal government used the 433-acre Institute Facility for synthetic rubber production during World War II. In 1947, UCC purchased the Facility and began manufacturing hydrocarbon and agricultural products. In 1986-2015, the property was owned and operated by various companies, before ownership returned to UCC, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical. In 1984, UCC applied for a permit to operate hazardous waste management units, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6901. The EPA published a report documenting groundwater contamination at the Facility. Since 1988, as part of the permitting process, the EPA instituted corrective actions at the Facility to address groundwater contamination. In 2013, the West Virginia Department of Administration transferred land to West Virginia State University (WVSU), so that WVSU was immediately adjacent to the Facility. WVSU refused to sign an environmental covenant agreeing not to use the groundwater and ultimately filed suit in state court, asserting state and common law claims and seeking remedial measures, beyond those recommended by the EPA.Defendants removed the action to federal court invoking federal question jurisdiction, diversity jurisdiction, and federal officer jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 1331, 1332, 1441, 1442, and 1446. The Fourth Circuit affirmed a remand to state court. Defendants were not “acting under” the “subjection, guidance, or control” of the EPA. There is no federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 1331, over WVSU’s state claims because they neither challenge an EPA-directed CERCLA “cleanup” under nor arise from RCRA remedial measures and, thus, are not preempted. View "West Virginia State University Board of Governors v. The Dow Chemical Co." on Justia Law
Western Watersheds Project v. Haaland
Environmental groups filed suit, alleging that the federal government unlawfully issued oil and gas leases on federal land. The district court stayed vacatur of the lease sales pending appeal. Two weeks later, Chesapeake, an independent producer of oil and natural gas, moved to intervene as a defendant, noting that it had already spent more than $19.7 million to acquire, explore, and develop its leases.The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of the motion. Chesapeake was entitled to intervention as of right under FRCP 24(a). Chesapeake has a significantly protectable interest that could be impaired by the disposition of this action, its intervention motion was timely, and its interests will not be adequately represented by existing parties. The court noted the stage of the proceedings at which Chesapeake sought to intervene; potential prejudice to other parties; and the reason for and length of the delay. The likelihood that additional parties and arguments might make the resolution of the case more difficult was a poor reason to deny intervention. Although Chesapeake moved to intervene more than two years after the start of the litigation, its motion came just three months after it discovered that its leases were involved in the litigation, and just two weeks after the district court stayed vacatur of the lease sales. Chesapeake made sufficiently colorable arguments that another intervenor would not make all of Chesapeake’s proposed arguments. View "Western Watersheds Project v. Haaland" on Justia Law
Utah Physic. for Healthy Env’t v. Diesel Power Gear, et al.
Defendants’ businesses focused on large diesel trucks and related parts, merchandise, and media. In 2017 Defendants were sued by Plaintiff Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), a nonprofit organization that alleged, among other things, that Defendants were tampering with required emission-control devices and installing so-called “defeat devices” in violation of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and Utah’s State Implementation Plan. After a bench trial the court entered judgment in favor of UPHE, finding Defendants collectively liable for hundreds of violations of the CAA and Utah’s plan and assessing over $760,000 in civil penalties. On appeal Defendants challenged UPHE’s Article III and statutory standing, the district court’s inclusion of certain kinds of transactions in its tabulation of violations, and the court’s penalty analysis. Although the Tenth Circuit rejected most of Defendants’ arguments, it felt compelled to remand this case back to the district court for additional proceedings because: (1) UPHE lacked Article III standing to complain of conduct by Defendants that had not contributed to air pollution in Utah’s Wasatch Front; and (2) the district court needed to reevaluate the seriousness of Defendants’ violations of the Utah plan’s anti-tampering provision. View "Utah Physic. for Healthy Env't v. Diesel Power Gear, et al." on Justia Law
Save Civita Because Sudberry Won’t v. City of San Diego
The City of San Diego (City) certified an environmental impact report (EIR) for the “Serra Mesa Community Plan [SMCP] Amendment Roadway Connection Project” (Project) and approved an amendment to the SMCP and the City’s General Plan to reflect the proposed roadway. Save Civita Because Sudberry Won’t (“Save Civita”) filed a combined petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief (Petition/Complaint) against the City, challenging the City’s certification of the EIR and approval of the Project. Save Civita contended that the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), the Planning and Zoning Law, and the public’s due-process and fair-hearing rights. The trial court denied the Petition/Complaint in its entirety and entered a judgment in favor of the City. On appeal, Save Civita raised four claims related to the City’s certification of the EIR for the Project: (1) the City violated CEQA Guidelines section 15088.5, subdivision (g) in failing to summarize revisions made in the Project’s recirculated draft EIR (RE-DEIR); (2) the Project’s final EIR (FEIR) was deficient because it failed to adequately analyze, as an alternative to the Project, a proposal to amend the MVCP to remove the planned road from that community plan; (3) the FEIR is deficient because it failed to adequately analyze the Project’s traffic impacts; and (4) the FEIR failed to adequately discuss the Project’s inconsistency with the General Plan’s goal of creating pedestrian-friendly communities. In addition to its EIR / CEQA claims, Save Civita maintains that the Project will have a deleterious effect on the pedestrian-friendly Civita community and that the City therefore violated the Planning and Zoning law in concluding that the Project is consistent with the City’s General Plan. Finally, Save Civita maintains that the City acted in a quasi-adjudicatory capacity in certifying the FEIR and approving the Project and that a City Council member violated the public’s procedural due process rights by improperly advocating for the Project prior to its approval. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the City in its entirety. View "Save Civita Because Sudberry Won't v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law
South Coast Air Quality Management District v. City of Los Angeles
In 2001, the City issued China Shipping a permit to build the Container Terminal, within the Port of Los Angeles. The settlement of a suit under the California Environmental Quality Act required the City to prepare an environmental impact report. The resulting 2008 Report found the project “would have significant and unavoidable adverse environmental impacts to air quality, aesthetics, biological resources, geology, transportation, noise, and water quality sediments and oceanography.” The City adopted more than 50 mitigation measures and several lease measures to reduce these impacts. China Shipping’s lease was never amended to incorporate the mitigation measures. Several measures were partially implemented; others were ignored entirely. In 2015, the City began a revised environmental analysis for the Terminal. The Board of Harbor Commissioners certified the final supplemental report in 2019. The City Council approved it in 2020, allowing the Terminal to operate under revised conditions. China Shipping refused to implement or to pay for any new measures. The Air District filed suit, seeking to set aside the Terminal's approvals and permit and nullification of the certification of the 2020 Report, to disallow continued operation of the Terminal.The Union sought permissive intervention, claiming that up to 3,075 of its members could lose their jobs. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the Union’s motion. The Union’s interest in the case was speculative and consequential—not direct and immediate, as required for permissive intervention—and the prejudice to existing parties outweighed the reasons supporting intervention. Other parties can be counted upon to support the jobs issue. Unlike the Attorney General and the California Air Resources Board, which were permitted to intervene, the Union has no legal interest in the CEQA issues. Another intervening party would complicate the litigation. View "South Coast Air Quality Management District v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law
Stevens v. St. Tammany Parish Government
In the first suit between the parties, the state trial court entered judgment against plaintiffs in August 2018. Plaintiffs then filed this second suit in federal court, asserting the same state law claims in addition to claims under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the state law claims as precluded by res judicata; dismissal of the CWA claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim; and denial of plaintiffs' motion for injunctive relief. In this case, the non-CWA claims existed at the time of the state court judgment, and are the same as those asserted in the state court litigation. Furthermore, plaintiffs have forfeited any argument that the district court erred in dismissing the CWA allegations in the original, first, and second amended complaints. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' subsequent Rule 59(e) motion for reconsideration, which included a request for leave to file a third amended complaint. View "Stevens v. St. Tammany Parish Government" on Justia Law
Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University of California
The University of California (Regents) approved a new development for additional academic space and campus housing, certified a final supplemental environmental impact report (SEIR), then filed a notice of determination regarding the project, which identified ACC as the developer and CHF as the ground lessee and borrower in connection with the housing. SBN challenged the certification of the SEIR under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), citing various omissions. A first amended petition, substantively identical to the initial petition, added ACC and CHF as real parties in interest, Public Resources Code 21167.6.5(a)). SBN subsequently filed a first amendment to that petition, seeking to add ACC’s parent companies (jointly, ACC) as real parties in interest.ACC and CHF argued SBN failed to name them as parties within the applicable limitations period. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of ACC and CHF, citing Code of Civil Procedure 389(b). The courts declined to dismiss the entire petition. SBN would have no way to challenge the SEIR if the case was dismissed, whereas ACC and CHF were parties in a related case challenging the same SEIR and unlikely to be subject to a harmful settlement. The court concluded ACC and CHF were not indispensable parties, noting the unity of interest between those parties and the Regents. View "Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law
McCann v. City of San Diego
Plaintiff Margaret McCann appealed a judgment in favor of defendant City of San Diego (City) on McCann’s petition for writ of mandate and an order denying her request for a preliminary injunction. McCann challenged the City’s environmental review process related to its decision to approve two sets of projects that would convert overhead utility wires to an underground system in several neighborhoods. McCann’s primary concern was the need for the underground system to be supplemented with several above-ground transformers, which would be housed in three-foot-tall metal boxes in the public right-of-way. According to McCann, the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) for both sets of projects. The Court of Appeal concluded McCann’s claims were barred as to the first set of projects because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies to challenge the City’s determination that the projects were exempt from CEQA. The Court determined the City complied with the CEQA. However, the Court found merit in McCann’s argument the City’s finding that the projects would not have a significant environmental impact due to greenhouse gas emissions was not supported by substantial evidence. The Court found remand was necessary to allow the City to conduct a further review to determine if the greenhouse gas emissions were consistent with the City’s Climate Action Plan. Judgment was therefore reverse in part and affirmed in all other respects. View "McCann v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law