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Showing 56 posts in Decisions of Note.

On May 17, 2021, the Supreme Court vacated an appellate court decision which had remanded to state court an action seeking to hold petroleum companies liable for the effects of climate change, finding that the appellate court impermissibly restricted the scope of its review of a district court’s order. Although, as noted by the Supreme Court, “[t]he only question before us is one of civil procedure,” the case of BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, Docket No. 19-1189 (May 17, 2021) may have a profound practical impact on ongoing environmental litigation. Read More »

Less than a month after hearing oral arguments, the United States Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in Guam v. United States, Docket No. 20-382 (May 24, 2021), the eagerly anticipated opinion on whether consent decrees and administrative orders that do not expressly resolve liability for claims under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) nevertheless give rise to a claim for contribution under Section 113(f)(3) of CERCLA. The issue is a crucial one and has been the subject of numerous court opinions because of the short, three-year limitations period for contribution actions. The opinion, which the Court intended to provide clarity in the area, holds that only settlements that release “CERCLA-specific liability” trigger the right to contribution. Read More »

Last month, a bare majority of the Supreme Court held in Kisor v. Wilkie, No. 18-15, 588 U.S. ___, that federal courts should still defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations, a practice known as Auer deference, but only sometimes. In doing so, the Supreme Court narrowed the circumstances in which Auer deference is warranted by adopting a new five-part test that must be satisfied for it to apply. The decision has important ramifications for environmental practitioners because of the significance of regulations in environmental law. Read More »

Last week, the United States Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision held that in the maritime toxic tort context, a product manufacturer has a duty to warn when its product requires asbestos components to be subsequently incorporated into the product for it to properly function.  Air & Liquid Sys. Corp. v. DeVries, No. 17-1104, slip op. at 9-10 (U.S. Mar. 19, 2019).  The products at issue – shipping components including pumps, blowers, and turbines – required the addition of asbestos insulation or asbestos parts to properly function.  The plaintiffs, two Navy veterans, were exposed to asbestos in the shipping components, and alleged that this exposure caused them to develop cancer.  Although the Supreme Court’s decision is limited to the maritime toxic tort context, the DeVries decision will nevertheless cause many product manufacturers pause as they consider their obligations for issuing appropriate warnings for products that they know will ultimately have asbestos or other hazardous materials integrated into the product before it reaches an end-user. Read More »

Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated opinion in EQT Prod. Co. v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., No. 6 MAP 2017, 2018 WL 1516385, (Pa. Mar. 28, 2018), holding that the Clean Streams Law (“CSL”) does not authorize the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) to impose daily penalties for the ongoing, continuing presence of pollutants in waters of the Commonwealth. In the 5-to-2 decision, which affirmed in part the Commonwealth Court’s preceding opinion, the Court ruled that to construe the language of the CSL as allowing penalties for the movement of pollutants from one water body to another (DEP’s “water-to-water” theory) was not only unsupported by the statutory language, but would also expose the regulated community to potentially massive civil penalties, and as such, DEP’s penalty calculations including penalties for the days the pollutants remained in the affected groundwater after the initial discharge were excessive. Read More »

The federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), better known as Superfund, provides private parties with two types of claims to recover costs associated with investigating and remediating contaminated sites – a cost recovery claim under CERCLA Section 107(a), 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a), and a contribution claim under Section 113(f), 42 U.S.C. § 9613(f).  A party has a claim for contribution under CERCLA Section 113(f)(3)(B) if that party has “resolved its liability to the United States or a State for some or all of a response action or for some or all of the costs of such action in an administrative or judicially approved settlement.”  A party can therefore settle its liability for a contaminated site with the EPA or a state government, and then seek to recover a portion of the costs of that settlement from other potentially responsible parties who contributed to the contamination at the site.  But, CERCLA imposes a 3-year statute of limitations on Section 113 contribution actions, which begins to run from the date of entry of the administrative or judicially approved settlement.  While at first, this may appear to be a cut-and-dry statute of limitations, there is ample case law exploring the nuances of what it means for a party to have “resolved” its liability with the government such that the 3-year statute of limitations begins to run.  Last month, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit added to that growing body of case law, in Asarco, LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 866 F.3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2017). Read More »

On June 20, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a majority decision, established a binding, heightened standard of review for challenges brought under Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment. See Pa. Environmental Defense Foundation v. Commonwealth, No. 10 MAP 2015 (Pa. June 20, 2017) (PEDF).  The Court’s decision in PEDF affirmed and expanded upon the Court’s 2013 plurality decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013), which the Commonwealth Court had refused to follow. Read More »

Earlier this week, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Spill Act contribution claims against the State of New Jersey for events prior to April 1, 1977 – the date the statute was enacted – are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.  This ruling places the State on an unequal footing with private parties for historic environmental liability under the Spill Act, and in effect, creates an automatic orphan share for pre-1977 sites where the State would otherwise have liability.  Read More »

In the latest development in the ongoing dispute between EQT Production Company (“EQT”) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) over DEP’s calculation of continuing violations of the Clean Streams Law (“CSL”), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that Section 301 of the CSL prohibits acts or omissions resulting in the initial active discharge or entry of industrial waste into waters of the Commonwealth, and does not authorize ongoing penalties for the continuing presence of that industrial waste in waters of the Commonwealth after its initial entry.  The Commonwealth Court’s decision in this case, EQT Production Co. v. Dept. of Envt’l Prot., No. 485 M.D. 2014 (Jan. 11, 2017), comes over one year after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided EQT Production Co. v. Dept. of Envt’l Prot., 130 A.3d 752 (Pa. 2015), which we reported on, holding that EQT may be permitted to challenge DEP’s continuing-violation interpretation in the Commonwealth Court before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board decides and imposes the ultimate penalty, given the threat of ballooning penalties under DEP’s ongoing-violation interpretation.  Read More »

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that a PRP’s bankruptcy settlement of its CERCLA liability did not bar that PRP from later seeking contribution for a share of the settlement – despite the bankruptcy court’s determination that the settlement represented the PRP’s “fair share” of CERCLA liability.  Read More »