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Last week, the United States Supreme Court held that federal courts can review the Army Corps of Engineers’ determinations that a landowner’s property contains “waters of the United States” and is therefore subject to the Clean Water Act’s regulations and permitting process.  Remarkably, the decision was unanimous in affirming the Eighth Circuit’s decision that such determinations are considered final agency actions under the Administrative Procedures Act and are therefore reviewable by the courts.  The majority opinion in the case, United States Army Corps of Eng'rs v. Hawkes Co., No. 15-290 (U.S. May 31, 2016), was authored by Chief Justice Roberts while Justices Kennedy, Kagan, and Ginsberg each authored separate concurring opinions.   Read More »

Earlier this month, the Colorado Supreme Court invalidated two municipalities’ bans on hydraulic fracturing, holding that the local ordinances instituting the bans were preempted by state law.  In City of Longmont v. Colorado Oil and Gas Association, No. 15SC667 (May 2, 2016), the Court held that an indefinite ban on fracking activity was preempted by the state’s Oil and Gas Act, which generally provides that fracking is permitted and supported in the state.  Similarly, in City of Fort Collins v. Colorado Oil and Gas Association, No. 15SC668 (May 2, 2016), the Court held that a local ordinance instituting a five-year moratorium on fracking that was slated to expire in 2018 was likewise preempted. Read More »

As part of EPA’s investigation of a Superfund site, EPA typically issues a 104(e) information request to any person or entity that EPA believes to have information regarding release of hazardous substances at the site, including those that may be considered to be PRPs charged with the ultimate cleanup of the site.  Responding to a 104(e) request often requires the recipient to provide detailed responses regarding historical and current industrial operations, and can often set the stage for settlement negotiations with EPA and other PRPs regarding funding the investigation and remediation of the Superfund site. In an unpublished non-precedential opinion filed yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that receipt of a 104(e) information request for a Superfund site triggers an insurer’s duty to defend a policyholder for attorneys’ fees and related costs associated with responding to the request.   Read More »

Last month, a district court in the Northern District of California held on motions for summary judgment that Technichem, Inc., a hazardous waste management company, was liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for PCE contamination, but that the issue of whether an employee was also considered an “operator” under CERCLA could not be resolved on summary judgment.  The case, Department of Toxic Substances Control v. Technichem, Inc. et al, Case No. 12-cv-05845-VC (N.D. Cal, March 15, 2016), was decided by United States District Judge Vince Chhabria.     Read More »

Yesterday, Judge Corbett O’Meara, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, dismissed a proposed class action complaint filed by a group of residents in Flint, Michigan regarding the drinking water contamination crisis against the City of Flint and several City employees, local politicians, Michigan’s Governor Snyder, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the Michigan Department of Health.  The proposed class action included various state statutory and common law claims, as well as a constitutional claim asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a civil rights cause of action that allows private parties to recover monetary damages from state and local government entities for deprivation of constitutional rights.  The plaintiffs did not include a Safe Drinking Water Act claim in their complaint, possibly as a tactical maneuver, since the sole remedy available in a citizen suit filed under the Safe Drinking Water Act is injunctive relief, rather than monetary damages which are available for a § 1983 constitutional claim.   Read More »

Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a Sierra Club citizen suit against a coal-fired power plant for an alleged permitting violation of the Clean Air Act, finding that the Sierra Club’s claims were time-barred.  In the case, Sierra Club v. Okla. Gas & Elec. Co., No. 14-7065 (10th Cir. March 8, 2016), the court held that the Sierra Club’s claims for civil penalties were statutorily time-barred because they were brought more than five years after the power plant began its unpermitted modification of a boiler, an action which the Sierra Club claims violated the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program under the Clean Air Act.  The court also affirmed dismissal of the group’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief because those legal claims were predicated on the same facts as the time-barred civil penalties.  The court’s interpretation of the statute of limitations as applied to the PSD program is consistent with a 2011 district court decision in the 3rd Circuit, United States v. EME Homer City Generation L.P., et al., which we reported on here. Read More »

In 2014, we covered the United States Supreme Court’s decision in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger et al., 134 S. Ct. 2175 (June 9, 2014).  In Waldburger, the Court overturned a decision by the Fourth Circuit, and held that while CERCLA preempts state statutes of limitations in toxic tort personal injury and property damage actions, it does not preempt state statutes of repose, like the North Carolina statute of repose at issue, from barring similar actions.    Last week, in Stahle v. CTS Corp., No. 15-1001 (March 2, 2016), the Fourth Circuit addressed an even more basic question, whether the statute of repose at issue in Waldburger is even applicable in such cases.  Read More »

In a dispute that once generated the “largest environmental bankruptcy award ever,” the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York this month issued a decision further clarifying the effects of the monumental 2014 bankruptcy settlement agreement.  The February 1, 2016 decision in In re Tronox Incorporated, No. 1:14-cv-5495, determined that beneficiaries of the 2014 settlement agreement could not reignite their toxic tort claims against the debtors’ surviving corporate parent, Kerr-McGee Corporation (“(new) Kerr-McGee”), in the underlying settlement agreement. Read More »

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 »