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Showing 9 posts from 2020.

In 2015, a pipeline in Santa Barbara County, California ruptured and leaked oil, some of which made its way to the ocean and eventually washed up on local beaches. A class of plaintiffs brought an action in federal district court against defendants Plains All American Pipeline, L.P., and Plains Pipeline L.P. (“Plains”) for claims of statutory violations, negligence, public nuisance, continuing private nuisance, nuisance per se, and trespass. In response, Plains filed a motion for summary judgment which sought to have the claims of the Property Subclass plaintiffs dismissed, primarily on the basis that the harm caused by the oil spill was a “temporary diminution in property value,” and not recoverable as a matter of law.

Last week, Judge Gutierrez of the District Court for the Central District of California issued an order denying most of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, thereby allowing the litigation to continue. See Keith Andrews et al v. Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. et al., CV 15-4113 PSG (JEMx) (Mar. 17, 2020). The court held that several of plaintiffs’ claims contained genuine issues of material fact that should be brought before a jury, and that it could not rule as a matter of law that plaintiffs had not suffered harm. The claims which merited the most analysis in the order were the common law property claims, i.e.: negligence, nuisance, and trespass. Read More »

On March 2, 2020, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a municipality was allowed to proceed with challenging the validity of certain environmental state statutes under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA). Pa. Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. Grant Twp., No. 126 M.D. 2017 (Pa. Cmwlth. Mar. 2, 2020). The question addressed, whether and if so the extent to which the validity of Pennsylvania’s environmental statutes can be challenged under the ERA, was one left open by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Pa. Envtl. Defense Found. v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017). Read More »

Last month, the D.C. Circuit, reversing a lower court decision, held that Guam was time-barred from pursuing its claims under CERCLA against the US Navy for the cleanup of the Ordot Dump on the island. Government of Guam v. United States of America, No. 1:17-cv-02487 (D.C. Cir. 2020). Of particular interest was the D.C. Circuit's determination that a 2004 Consent Decree entered into between EPA and Guam to resolve claims under a statutory scheme other than CERCLA, the Clean Water Act, nevertheless sufficiently “resolved” Guam’s liability for at least some remediation costs, giving rise to a contribution claim under Section 113 of CERCLA, bringing the D.C. Circuit in line with a majority of other federal appellate courts that have examined the issue. Read More »

On February 21, 2020, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court dismissed a claim brought by a group of municipalities alleging that a Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) regulation governing the siting of gas meters failed to sufficiently protect historic resources under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA). See City of Lancaster, et al. v. Pa. Pub. Util. Comm’n, No. 251 MD 2019 (Pa. Cmwlth. Feb. 21, 2020). Read More »

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 »