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Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit resurrected two separate lawsuits filed by residents living near the Willow Grove Naval Air Reserve Station in Horsham Township, Pennsylvania and the Naval Air Development Center in Warminster Township, Pennsylvania, which both seek to have the Navy fund medical monitoring programs for exposure to drinking water impacted by two emerging contaminants – perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (“PFOS”) – attributable to operations at the two Naval facilities.  In two parallel cases that were joined for appeal – Giovanni et al. v. U.S. Dep’t of the Navy and Palmer et al. v. U.S. Dep’t of the Navy, 2018 WL 4702222 (3d Cir. Oct. 2, 2018) – the Third Circuit held that the residents’ claims for medical monitoring under the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”) were not barred by the Navy’s ongoing investigation and remediation at the sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), because a request for medical monitoring “does not interfere with or alter the ongoing cleanup efforts.”  In contrast, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the residents’ separate claim that sought to have the Navy perform a government-led health assessment or health effects study, which was barred as a challenge to the Navy’s ongoing response actions at the sites. Read More »

Last week the Third Circuit held that the owner of a remediated site could be liable under CERCLA § 107(a) for environmental response costs incurred before it acquired the property. Pa. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot. v. Trainer Custom Chem., LLC., __ F.3d __, No. 17-2607, 2018 WL 4844077 (3d Cir. 2018). In its opinion reversing the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in advance of trial, the court concluded that “all costs” in § 107(a)(4)(A) means an owner is “indeed liable for all response costs, whether incurred before or after acquiring the property.” Id. at *5. Our blog post discussing the district court’s decision, 204 F. Supp. 3d 814 (E.D. Pa. 2016), can be found hereRead More »

Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held in two separate cases that the Clean Water Act does not extend liability to pollution that reaches navigable waters via groundwater. Kentucky Waterways All. v. Kentucky Utilities Co., No. 18-5115, 2018 WL 4559315, (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018); Tennessee Clean Water Network v. Tennessee Valley Auth., No. 17-6155, 2018 WL 4559103 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018). Instead, the court adopted the bright line rule that for a point source discharge to be actionable under the CWA, it must “dump directly into” navigable waters. The decisions departed from the Fourth and Ninth Circuits’ rulings earlier this year, which held that a “direct hydrological connection” between a discharge and waterbody was sufficient for CWA liability. Our prior blog post on the Fourth Circuit’s decision, Upstate Forever et al. v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP et al., No. 17-1640, 2018 WL 1748154 (4th Cir. April 12, 2018) can be found here. Read More »

In the latest development in parallel cases captioned EQT Prod. Co. v. Department of Environmental Protection which have been moving through Pennsylvania state courts and the Environmental Hearing Board ("EHB") since early 2014, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the EHB’s assessment of penalties totaling $1,137,295.76 against the hydraulic fracturing company, EQT Production Company (“EQT”), for contamination to groundwater arising from a leaking wastewater impoundment. EQT Prod. Co. v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., No. 844 C.D. 2017, 2018 WL 4289310 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Sept. 10, 2018). Specifically, on September 10, 2018, the Commonwealth Court held that the EHB did not commit an error of law when it held that, under Clean Streams Law (“CSL”), penalties could be assessed for every day that contamination entered the groundwater from soils “through fundamental hydrologic principles,” even if the initial spill event had ceased and there was no direct evidence of daily transmission of contamination from soil to groundwater. Read More »

In Rice v. First Energy Corporation, a putative class of plaintiffs living near a former landfill filed trespass, nuisance, negligence, and medical monitoring claims against First Energy Corporation and NRG Energy, Inc., alleging that each Defendant was liable for claims arising from their respective subsidiaries’ disposal of coal ash in the landfill. No. 2:17-cv-489-LPL, 2018 WL 4282850, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 7, 2018). Though it frequently noted Plaintiffs’ lackluster efforts to pursue discovery and their heavy reliance on conclusory, minimalistic arguments, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan nevertheless dug deep into the parties' arguments to issue a thorough and strong opinion highlighting the difficulty of piercing a corporate veil in an environmental case and concluding that the Defendants were neither corporate successors nor alter egos of their respective subsidiaries. Id. at *13. Read More »

Reminding all Superfund practitioners that while the application of allocation principles and factors may be flexible it is not without boundaries, on September 11, 2018, the Third Circuit filed an opinion vacating and remanding a District Court’s equitable allocation of cleanup costs because the lower court’s methodology resulted in an allocation that was too “speculative.” Trinity Indus., Inc. v. Greenlease Holding Co., No. 16-1994, 2018 WL 4324261, at *12 (3d Cir. Sept. 11, 2018).  The Court pointed to two "mathematical" errors in the District Court’s analysis, and noted that although courts do not have to be perfectly precise in their calculations, they must be able to demonstrate a solid mathematical foundation for arriving at their final number. The ruling also offered guidance for the lower court on an appropriate methodology and application of certain equitable factors. This guidance could prove helpful for other practitioners in this area of the law regarding what the Third Circuit would deem non-speculative, and therefore acceptable. Read More »

On September 4, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit determined that the Third Circuit, and not the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (“EHB”), has jurisdiction to review Water Quality Certifications issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) for interstate natural gas projects governed by the Natural Gas Act. See Del. Riverkeeper Network, et al. v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., No. 16-221, 2018 WL 4201626 (3d Cir. Sept. 4, 2018). The Third Circuit also held that DEP does not violate Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (“Environmental Rights Amendment” or “ERA”) by issuing a Water Quality Certification that is conditioned on obtaining substantive permits. Read More »

On August 3, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the petition for allowance of appeal filed by certain environmental groups challenging the Commonwealth Court’s decision to uphold a municipal ordinance allowing natural gas drilling in a mixed residential and agricultural (“R-AG”) zone.  See Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et al., v. Middlesex Township Zoning Hearing Board, No. 270 WAL 2017.  In doing so, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the lower court’s June 2, 2017 decision, finding that it had relied on a now-overruled environmental balancing test to decide that the municipal ordinance passed muster under Section I, Article 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment (“ERA”).  Specifically, the Supreme Court directed the lower court to reconsider its decision in light of the Court’s more recent decisions in Pa. Envtl. Def. Fund. v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017), and Gorsline v. Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp., --- A.3d---, 2018 WL 2448803 (Pa. 2018). The Supreme Court also directed the lower court consider the amendments contained in Middlesex Township’s Ordinance 127, which now expressly included gas well development in the R-AG zones. Read More »

The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution preserves the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which shields state governments and their agencies from federal litigation that seeks money damages or equitable relief.  In general, a state government can only be sued if sovereign immunity is expressly waived by statute.  For example, nearly every state and the federal government have enacted a “torts claims act” that abrogates sovereign immunity for certain claims based on the negligence of government employees, and states that accept federal funding are also not immune from federal discrimination suits.  Where no waiver exists, the doctrine of sovereign immunity is broad and provides a shield to environmental suits, including claims under the federal Comprehensive, Environmental, Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), as the Fifth Circuit recently affirmed in United States Oil Recovery Site Potentially Responsible Parties Group v. Railroad Comm’n of Texas, et al., Dkt. No. 17-20361, __ F. 3d __, (5th Cir., Aug. 1, 2018).  Read More »

Rule 23(c)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, “[w]hen appropriate, an action may be brought or maintained as a class action with respect to particular issues.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c)(4). Rule 23(b)(3), on the other hand, provides that a class action may be maintained only where “the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.” R. 23(b)(3). The Second, Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuit have adopted a “broad view” of class certification, permitting a district court to certify a class on particular issues under Federal Rule 23(c)(4), even where the traditional predominance requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) have not been met for the case as a whole. Only two circuits, the Fifth and Eleventh, ascribe to the more “narrow view” in which Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement is applied to prevent district courts from certifying particular issues under Rule 23(c)(4), without certifying an entire claim. In a recent case brought my homeowners alleging contamination to groundwater, Martin v. Behr Dayton Thermal Products LLC et al., No. 17-3663, --- F.3d ---, 2018 WL 3421711 (6th Cir. July 18, 2018), the Sixth Circuit has now joined the majority of circuits addressing this issue by endorsing the “broad view” of issue-based class certification. Read More »