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They say stigmas are social constructs. In court, however, they must be based on relevant and objective evidence, so says the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in a precedential opinion involving the amount of compensation owed to private landowners for easements over their properties to allow the installation of an underground pipeline. In UGI Sunbury LLC v. A Permanent Easement for 2.4645 Acres, Nos. 18-3126, 18-3127 (Feb. 11, 2020), the appellant UGI Sunbury, LLC (UGI) sought vacatur of a decision from the District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania in a condemnation proceeding under the Natural Gas Act, which based the compensation awarded in part on a claim that the public perception of natural gas pipelines on or near real property will permanently reduce the value of the property due to the stigma that the property is “damaged goods.” While the Third Circuit did not opine on the validity of the theory in general, it did find that the expert testimony upon which the award was based utterly failed to meet the requirements of Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and thus should not have been admitted nor relied upon.  Read More »

In a report and recommendation issued last week, a magistrate judge with the United States District Court for the District of Idaho found that disputes of fact preclude summary judgment on the majority of claims brought by a landfill against the United States Air Force and two other defendants. Idaho Waste Systems, Inc. v. U.S. Air Force, No. 1:18-cv-00229 (D.C. Idaho Jan. 27, 2020). The magistrate judge recommended dismissing state law claims brought against the Air Force on sovereign immunity grounds, but found that most of the remaining claims, including claims under CERCLA, should go to trial. Read More »

In a split 3-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the rule of capture applies to gas wells completed using hydraulic fracturing, though the Court’s holding was limited by the undeveloped factual record in the case. See Briggs v. Southwestern Energy Production Co., No. 63 MAP 2018 (Pa. Jan. 22, 2020). With the Court’s decision, Pennsylvania joins Texas and other states that have applied the rule of capture to hydraulic fracturing. The narrow scope of the Court’s holding, however, makes it almost certain that neighboring landowners will continue to assert trespass and conversion claims against developers in Pennsylvania engaging in hydraulic fracturing until the law is further developed. Read More »

On January 15, 2020, Judge Gerald J. Pappert of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed two groups of private plaintiffs’ claims against the United States Navy regarding perfluorocarbon contamination, PFOS and PFOA, in drinking water supplies around former Navy facilities in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, Pennsylvania. Giovanni v. U.S. Dept. of Navy, No. 16-4873, 17-765, -- F.Supp.3d --, 2020 WL 224683 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 15, 2020). Read More »

Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), a TMDL establishes the maximum amount of each pollutant that an impaired water segment can receive while still meeting identified water quality standards. After EPA receives a proposed TMDL from the state, it has a non-discretionary duty to either “approve or disapprove” the TMDL. See 33 U.S.C. § 1313(d)(2). If EPA approves the TMDL, it becomes effective. If EPA disapproves the TMDL, it must produce and issue its own TMDL within thirty days. Just before the close of 2019, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court for the Western District of Washington to compel the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a temperature total maximum daily load (TMDL) for the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Columbia Riverkeeper v. Wheeler, No. 18-35982 (9th Cir., Dec. 20, 2019). At issue in the litigation was whether the “constructive submission doctrine” applied when Washington and Oregon failed to submit required temperature TMDLs and whether that failure triggered a non-discretionary duty for EPA to issue the TMDL itself. Read More »

On December 17, 2019, the Honorable Judge Charles F. Lettow of the United States Court of Federal Claims, issued a 46-page opinion finding the federal government liable for taking a flowage easement on private properties within the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs and upstream of the Addicks and Barker Dams—two federal flood control projects along the gulf coast in Texas.  In re Upstream Addicks & Barker (Texas) Flood-Control Reservoirs, No. 17-9001L, slip op. (Fed. Cl. Dec. 17, 2019).  The decision is the first step for upstream property owners hoping to recover damages for severe flooding caused by Tropical Storm Harvey over two years ago. Read More »

The adage “you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube” has manifested itself in two recent federal court decisions. Under separate theories, both the Second Circuit and the District Court of the District of Columbia have issued decisions that highlight the difficulty environmental groups faced in challenging energy infrastructure projects that have been completed during the course of litigation. Read More »

Sometimes a movie can solve one mystery but hold off answering others, leaving viewers eager for the sequel. Legal opinions can be the same, as is the Third Circuit’s opinion in Cranbury Brick Yard, LLC v. United States, No. 18-3287 (3rd Cir. Nov. 22, 2019). After holding that the limitations period for a contribution action accrues from the date of entry into a non-judicial settlement and order on consent, the Court then sidesteps the issue of exactly what limitations period applies. Read More »

Thanks to amendments to the New Jersey Spill Act in the summer of 2019, and the superior court, appellate division’s recent decision in NJDEP v. Alsol Corporation, No. A-3546-17T1, -- A.3d --, 2019 WL 5947024 (N.J. Super. App. Nov. 13, 2019), NJDEP has clear jurisdiction to bring civil penalty actions in municipal court for violations of the Spill Act.  Among the summer 2019 amendments to the New Jersey Spill Act was the addition of an explanatory sentence at the end of N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11u(d), the statutory section providing jurisdiction for NJDEP’s issuance of civil penalties in superior or municipal court, as shown by the underlining below. Read More »

Relying on Texas caselaw, the Fifth Circuit, in Gao v. Blue Ridge Landfill TX, L.P., No. 19-40062 (5th Cir. Oct. 30, 2019), affirmed a district court decision which held that homeowners who moved near a preexisting landfill were subject to a two-year statute of limitations to bring suit based on odors emanating from the landfill. The case, while reliant on state law, nonetheless suggests that such claims that sound in nuisance need to be brought quickly, and that even a change in operations or uptick in odor complaints may be insufficient to reset the clock on the viability of claims. Read More »