Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
Peabody Midwest Mining, LLC v. Secretary of Labor
Methane is considered the most dangerous gas in underground mining; in sufficient concentrations, methane can ignite and cause a potentially catastrophic explosion. To protect worker safety, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations thus require miners to deenergize equipment and cease work when they detect certain methane concentrations. But during the methane inundation at the Francisco mine the miners did not stop work. They instead continued operating an energized drill, trying to stop the flow of methane. MSHA issued two orders citing the mine operator, Peabody Midwest Mining, LLC, for violating the applicable safety regulations and designated those violations as unwarrantable failures. It also individually cited the mine’s manager as Peabody’s agent. An administrative law judge and then the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission agreed with MSHA that Peabody violated MSHA safety regulations, that those violations constituted unwarrantable failures, that mine manager was individually liable, and that civil penalties were appropriate. Peabody and the manager petitioned for review in this court. The DC Circuit denied the petition. The court explained that MSHA safety regulations unambiguously prohibited Peabody’s operation of an energized drill in a high-methane environment, and substantial evidence supports the Commission’s unwarrantable failure and individual liability determinations. Further, as the Commission recognized, by permitting miners to work with energized equipment, the manager risked incurring the very hazard section 75.323(c)(2) is intended to address, i.e., potential ignition [in a] high-methane environment. View "Peabody Midwest Mining, LLC v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law
Louisiana State v. NOAA
The National Marine Fisheries Service promulgated a rule requiring shrimp trawlers 25 feet or longer operating in offshore waters from North Carolina to Texas to install turtle excluder devices (TEDs), subject to a few preconditions. In 2012, NMFS proposed a more restrictive rule requiring TEDs for skimmer trawlers. The Final Rule required TEDs on all skimmer trawlers over 40 feet, including those that operate inshore. Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) sued NMFS under the Administrative Procedure Act, challenging the Final Rule as arbitrary and capricious. Louisiana moved for summary judgment, focusing on the merits of its claims. NMFS opposed and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The district court granted NMFS’s motion, holding that Louisiana had not carried its summary judgment burden to establish standing. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that based on the record and procedural history of the case, the district court did not err in concluding that Louisiana failed to establish that it has standing to challenge the NMFS’s, Final Rule. The court reasoned that while the Final Rule’s EIS noted that the rule would adversely affect the shrimping industry across the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana failed to provide evidence, particularly substantiating the rule’s impact on its shrimping industry or, ergo, “a sufficiently substantial segment of its population.” Nor does Louisiana’s invocation of the “special solicitude” afforded States in the standing analysis rescue this argument, or for that matter, the State’s other arguments. View "Louisiana State v. NOAA" on Justia Law
WILDEARTH GUARDIANS, ET AL V. USFS, ET AL
The United States Forest Service oversees livestock grazing in the Colville National Forest in Eastern Washington, but it does not regulate or participate in the killing of wolves by the Department. Environmental organizations concerned about the wolves sued the Forest Service, challenging its grazing decisions. They alleged that those decisions will lead to an increase in the number of wolf attacks on livestock, which in turn will cause the Department to kill more wolves. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel explained to establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must show it has suffered an injury in fact, the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and it is likely that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. The Service did not dispute that Plaintiffs had a concrete interest in the welfare of gray wolves in the Colville National Forest. The key issues were whether any injury to the wolves would be caused by the allegedly unlawful conduct of the Service and whether a change in that conduct would redress that injury. Here, the claimed injury arose from the actions of a third party that is two steps removed from the Service. The Service does not kill wolves, nor does it regulate those that do. Rather, Plaintiffs object to grazing because it may lead to depredations, which may, in turn, lead the Department to consider and, in some cases, exercise its discretion to lethally remove wolves. Accordingly, the panel held that Plaintiffs lacked standing to assert their claims against the Service. View "WILDEARTH GUARDIANS, ET AL V. USFS, ET AL" on Justia Law
Lucas v. City of Pomona
The City of Pomona (the City) decided to allow commercial cannabis activities in specific locales within its boundaries. In doing so, the City determined it was exempt from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Guidelines adopted to implement CEQA (Cal. Code Regs.) (Guidelines). Thus, when the City chose areas to locate commercial cannabis activities, it did not conduct additional environmental review under CEQA. Appellant wanted his storefront property included among the locales where commercial cannabis activity would be allowed. The City, however, excluded Appellant’s property. Appellant then filed a petition for writ of mandate to overturn the City’s designation of areas for permissible commercial cannabis activities. He contended the City made the decision improperly by foregoing further environmental review. The superior court denied the petition and entered judgment in favor of the City. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court held that the City properly determined that the Project is Exempt per Guidelines Section 15183 and requires no additional environmental review. The court explained that substantial evidence shows the Project’s proposed commercial cannabis activities were similar to or “consistent” with existing land uses or development density established by the 2014 EIR and General Plan Update and thus meet the statutory exemption per Guidelines section 15183. Further, the court found that substantial evidence—the General Plan Update, the 2014 EIR, the Project, the DOS, and Findings of Consistency—shows the Project “has no project-specific effects” that are “peculiar” to it. View "Lucas v. City of Pomona" on Justia Law
Citizens for Constitutional Integrity, et al. v. United States, et al.
Plaintiffs Citizens for Constitutional Integrity and Southwest Advocates, Inc. appealed the denial of their motion for temporary relief by the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. The Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (the Office) granted a coal-mining permit for an expansion of the King II Mine (the Mine) in the Dunn Ranch Area of La Plata County, Colorado. Plaintiffs sought to enjoin mining under the expansion and ultimately vacate the permit. They alleged the Office conducted flawed assessments of the probable hydrologic impacts of the expansion, contrary to the requirements of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (the SMCRA or the Act). As authority for their motion, they invoked the Act’s citizen-suit provision, or alternatively, the Administrative Procedure Act (the APA). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded Plaintiffs were not entitled to temporary relief because their claims under the SMCRA and the APA were not likely to succeed on the merits. View "Citizens for Constitutional Integrity, et al. v. United States, et al." on Justia Law
L.A. Waterkeeper v. State Water Resources Control Bd.
The Regional Water Quality Control Board, Los Angeles Region (Regional Board) renewed permits allowing four publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) to discharge millions of gallons of treated wastewater daily into the Los Angeles River and Pacific Ocean. The Regional Board issued the permits over the objections of Los Angeles Waterkeeper (Waterkeeper). Waterkeeper sought a review of the permits before the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board), and the State Board declined to review. Waterkeeper then filed petitions for writs of mandate against the State and Regional Boards (collectively, the Boards). Waterkeeper further alleged the Regional Board issued the permits without making findings required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court issued four judgments and four writs of mandate directing the State Board to evaluate whether the discharges from each of the four POTWs were reasonable and to develop a factual record to allow for judicial review of whatever decision the State Board reached. The Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s judgments in favor of the Boards and reversed judgments and writs of mandate against State Board. The court agreed with the trial court that the Regional Board had no duty to evaluate the reasonableness of the POTWs’ discharges when issuing the permits. The Regional Board’s purview is water quality, not reasonable use, and the Legislature has not authorized the Regional Board to determine whether a POTW’s discharges could be put to better use. The court further held that Waterkeeper has not adequately pleaded entitlement to mandamus against the State Board, and the trial court should have sustained the State Board’s demurrer. View "L.A. Waterkeeper v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law
South River Watershed Alliance, et al. v. DeKalb County, Georgia
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (“GDNR”) sued DeKalb County for violating the Clean Water Act (“CWA”). To resolve this suit, the parties agreed to a consent decree in 2011. Eight years later, South River Watershed Alliance, Inc. (“South River”) and J.E. sued DeKalb County for failing to follow the decree and violating the CWA. The CWA authorizes citizen suits for enforcement purposes, but such suits are not allowed when an “administrator or State has commenced and is diligently prosecuting a civil or criminal action . . . to require compliance with the standard, limitation, or order.” Thus, this case turned on whether the 2011 consent decree—along with the ongoing efforts of the EPA and GDNR to require compliance—constitutes diligent prosecution. The district court determined that South River’s suit was barred by the diligent prosecution bar. On appeal, South River argued for the opposite result and requests injunctive relief to ensure DeKalb County’s compliance. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that South River wants the current consent decree discarded in favor of a more muscular alternative. The fact that South River disagrees with the prosecution strategy undertaken by the EPA and GDNR, however, is not enough to prove that the EPA and GDNR have failed to diligently prosecute DeKalb County’s CWA violations. To the contrary, the record shows that the EPA and GDNR have been diligent, which means that South River’s suit is barred under 33 U.S.C. Section 1365(b)(1)(B). View "South River Watershed Alliance, et al. v. DeKalb County, Georgia" on Justia Law
Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. Haaland, et al.
In 2019, the United States Forest Service (“FS”) issued a Record of Decision (“ROD”) authorizing livestock grazing for 10 years on land in the Upper Green River Area Rangeland (“UGRA”) in Wyoming. Two sets of petitioners-appellants, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club (collectively, “CBD”) and Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for Wile Rockies and Yellowstone to Unitas Connection (collectively “WWP”) challenged the UGRA Project under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), the National Forest Management Act (“NFMA”), and the Administrative Procedures Act. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded: (1) the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failures in the Biological Opinion to consider certain impacts the UGRA would have on female grizzly bears was arbitrary and capricious, but that the Opinion’s reliance on certain conservation measures was not; and (2) the Forest Service’s reliance on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion was arbitrary and capricious. As to WWP’s NFMA claims, the Court determined the ROD’s failure to consider the adequacy of forage and cover for migratory birds in the Project area was arbitrary and capricious. The Court remanded without vacated to the agencies to address deficiencies identified. View "Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
United States v. State of Michigan
After extensive litigation, the United States, Michigan, and five federally recognized tribes entered the Great Lakes Consent Decree of 1985, governing the regulation of Great Lakes fisheries. The subsequent Consent Decree of 2000 had a 20-year term. The district court extended that Decree indefinitely “until all objections to a proposed successor decree have been adjudicated” and granted amicus status to the Coalition, which represents numerous private “sport fishing, boating, and conservancy groups” interested in protecting the Great Lakes. The Coalition has represented its own interests during negotiation sessions.As the parties were concluding their negotiations on a new decree the Coalition moved to intervene, stating that Michigan is no longer “willing or able to adequately represent the Coalition’s interests” and intends to abandon key provisions of the 2000 Decree that promote biological conservation and diversity, allocate fishery resources between sovereigns, and establish commercial and recreational fishing zones. The district court denied the Coalition’s most recent motion to intervene. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In finding the motion untimely, the district court properly considered “all relevant circumstances” including the stage of the proceedings; the purpose for the intervention; the length of time that the movant knew or should have known of its interest in the case; the prejudice to the original parties; and any unusual circumstances militating for or against intervention. View "United States v. State of Michigan" on Justia Law
GP VINCENT II V. THE ESTATE OF EDGAR BEARD, ET AL
Plaintiff, the current owner of environmentally contaminated real property, brought CERCLA cost recovery claims against the Estates of Norma and Edgar Beard and Etch-Tek, Inc. Mayhew Center, LLC, had purchased the property from the Beards. Walnut Creek Manor, LLC, owner and operator of a retirement community adjacent to the property, sued Mayhew. The district court concluded that Mayhew’s property was the source of the tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, found on Walnut Creek Manor’s site and held Mayhew liable under CERCLA and the California Hazardous Substance Account Act for any future response costs. Mayhew sued Norma Beard, asserting cost recovery and contribution claims under CERCLA and other claims seeking to hold her liable for the judgment against it in the Walnut Creek Manor action and the contamination on both properties. The district court consolidated the two actions, and the parties settled. Mayhew defaulted on its mortgage, and the property was placed in a state court receivership. The district court concluded that the claims against the Beard Estates and Etch-Tek were barred by claim preclusion. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal, as barred by claim preclusion, of claims brought under the CERCLA and remanded for further proceedings. The panel concluded that the Mayhew/Beard action ended in a final judgment on the merits. As to the identity of claims, however, the panel concluded that claim preclusion did not apply. Mayhew’s CERCLA claim, which sought apportionment of the liability stemming from the Walnut Creek Manor action, was distinct from GP Vincent’s CERCLA claim, which sought reimbursement for costs incurred in connection with the remediation of GP Vincent’s property’s own contamination. View "GP VINCENT II V. THE ESTATE OF EDGAR BEARD, ET AL" on Justia Law