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On Friday, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued a non-precedential opinion that affirmed a trial court’s order denying objections filed by natural gas drilling company, Range Resources-Appalachia, LLC, to a subpoena issued to one of its engineering consultants, URS Corp. The case, Haney v. Range Resources-Appalachia, LLC, et al., No. 2012-3534, involves personal injury and property damage claims filed by a group of residents that live near Range’s Yeager natural gas drilling site in Washington County, Pennsylvania.   Read More »

Earlier this month, in the case of New Jersey Dep’t of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) v. Navillus Group, Docket No. A-4726-13T3 (N.J. App. Div. Jan. 14, 2016), the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey determined that there was insufficient evidence on summary judgment to hold the principal of a company personally liable for part of a $2 million judgment in an action brought pursuant to the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11, et seq. (the “Spill Act”) to recover costs expended by the State to clean up a contaminated property in Franklin Township owned by Jim Sullivan, Inc.  The court also reversed the trial court’s finding of liability against the defendants under a theory of unjust enrichment. Read More »

To close out 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued several opinions last week, including one that may potentially impact how parties challenge penalties assessed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) for violation of state environmental laws.  The case, EQT Production Co. v. Dept. of Envt’l Prot., No. J-67-2015 (Dec. 29, 2015), involves a challenge by EQT, a natural gas fracking operator, to civil penalties levied by DEP for contamination caused by a leaking fracking water impoundment.  EQT had already commenced a formal cleanup under Pennsylvania’s “Act 2” voluntary remediation program when DEP issued a civil penalty settlement demand under Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law for over $1.27 million, $900,000 of which was tied to ongoing violations.  DEP took the position that each day the contamination remained in the soil and/or entered groundwater or surface water constituted a continuing violation subject to additional penalties.  EQT disagreed and argued that under the Clean Streams Law, penalties could not exceed those that accrued during the time that contamination was actually being discharged into the environment.  The operator also argued that the Act 2 program governed their remediation efforts to address the contamination that remained at the site.   Read More »

Early this month, the Second Circuit heard oral argument in Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc. v. United States EPA, No. 14-1823, an appeal from the Southern District of New York’s March 2014 ruling which invalidated the “water transfer” exemption rule from National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permitting requirements.  A decision from the Second Circuit, which will have far reaching effects on public and private entities alike, is expected in 2016. Read More »

Last week, a divided Eighth Circuit in United States v. Dico, Inc., No. 14-2762 (8th Cir. Dec. 10, 2015), reversed in part a district court’s grant of summary judgment against Dico, Inc., in which the lower court found that Dico arranged for disposal of hazardous substances by selling buildings contaminated with PCBs.  In reversing the district court’s determination that Dico intended to dispose of PCBs contained in the insulation of the buildings by selling the entire buildings, the Eighth Circuit also vacated a punitive damages award but allowed civil penalties to stand.  Read More »

In an unpublished opinion issued last week, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court found that a local ordinance that declares as a nuisance “the escape into the open air . . . of smoke, fly ash, dust, fumes, vapors, mists, or gases as to cause injury, detriment or annoyance . . .” is neither preempted by the New Jersey Solid Waste Management Act (“SWMA”) nor unconstitutionally broad or vague.  The case, New Jersey v. Strategic Environmental Partners, LLC, No. A-4968-13T4, was decided on November 19, 2015 by Judges Messano and Simonelli. Read More »

Another opinion was issued yesterday in the Morristown Associates v. Grant Oil Co. case, Dkt. No. A-0313-11T3 (N.J. App. Div., Nov. 17, 2015), a case which became famous earlier this year when the New Jersey Supreme Court held that there is no statute of limitations for private-party contribution claims under the New Jersey Spill Act. After the case was remanded following the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision, the Appellate Division had to address several issues that the parties had appealed, but were deemed moot when the Appellate Division previously dismissed the case on statute of limitations grounds.  Read More »

Yesterday in two parallel class action interlocutory appeals, the Sixth Circuit joined the Third Circuit in holding that the Clean Air Act does not preempt state common law tort claims related to air pollution.  The first case, Merrick v. Diageo Americas Supply, Inc., involved excess ethanol emissions from Johnny Walker and J&B brand whiskey distilleries located in Louisville, Kentucky that allegedly caused the growth of a specific type of mold on neighboring properties.  The proposed class of local property owners asserted claims for negligence, nuisance, trespass, and injunctive relief, relying on violations of a local ordinance that prohibited air pollution which caused “injury, detriment, nuisance, or annoyance to any considerable number of persons or to the public.”  The second case, Little v. Louisville Gas & Electric Co., involved dust and coal ash emissions from a coal-fired power plant which effected local residents, and which were the subject of multiple notices of violation issued to the power company.  The class action claims in Little included claims for violations of the federal Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, as well as state common law claims for nuisance, trespass, negligence, negligence per se, and gross negligence.  In both cases, United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky allowed the common law claims to survive defendants’ motions to dismiss, ruling that the common law claims were not preempted by the federal Clean Air Act.   Read More »

Last week, in the case of Maroz v. Arcelormittal Monessen LLC, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140660 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 15, 2015), a judge of the Western District of Pennsylvania declined to dismiss a proposed class action in which residents living near ArcellorMittal’s coke plant in Monessen, Pennsylvania alleged that noxious odors and air particulates from the plant polluted their properties.  After allowing the residents to amend their original complaint, U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab found that the residents adequately pled the state common law tort claims for private nuisance, negligence, and trespass, despite the judge’s acknowledgement that there was “not a large number of detailed facts” set forth in the amended complaint.   However, the Court did dismiss claims for public nuisance and punitive damages. Read More »

The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division recently confirmed that the New Jersey Spill Act applies retroactively and abrogates the State of New Jersey’s sovereign immunity for contribution to contamination.  The case, NL Industries, Inc. v. State, Dkt. No. L-1296-14 (Law Div., Middlesex Cnty., August 27, 2014), affd. Dkt. No. A-0869-1413, (App. Div., Aug. 26, 2015), deals with the remediation of contamination related to the historic construction of a sea wall and jetty in the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge Township.  The sea wall and jetty are part of the Raritan Bay Superfund site, which was placed on the National Priorities List in November 2009 after EPA detected elevated levels of lead and heavy metals in the soil, beach, sand, and sediments surrounding the Bay.  In January 2014, the EPA issued a unilateral administrative order to NL Industries, the manufacturer of lead and other heavy metal slags that were used to construct the sea wall, to clean up the contamination, which is anticipated to cost in excess of $75 million.   Read More »