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Showing 15 posts in Ninth Circuit.

On September 14, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that speculative, potential future response costs are not recoverable in a contribution action under CERCLA, even if the party seeking contribution has already made an expenditure for such costs pursuant to a settlement. The response costs at issue in ASARCO LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Co, No. 18-35934, D.C. No. 6:12-cv-00053-DLC (9th Cir. Sept. 14, 2020) were part of a cash-out bankruptcy settlement that resolved plaintiff ASARCO LLC’s liability for several contaminated sites. Only a portion of the settlement funds paid by ASARCO had been spent on remediating the site in question, with the rest held in trust to address future potential response costs. Although the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s allocation of 25 percent of the cleanup responsibility to the defendant, Atlantic Richfield, it vacated and remanded the district court’s decision with respect to the future costs. Read More »

The Federal Tort Claims Act permits claims for monetary damages against the United States for injury or loss of property caused by the wrongful acts of federal employees. See 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). However, this waiver of sovereign immunity is limited by the discretionary function exception, which preserves immunity for claims “based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the Government.” 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a). Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit analyzed the discretionary function exception in the context of environmental contamination, finding that the exception does not apply to what can best be described as ordinary negligence in the performance of a site remediation. Nanouk v. United States, No. 13-35116 (Sept. 4, 2020). Read More »

On August 10, 2020, the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court’s grant of defendants’ motion for summary judgement, permitting plaintiffs’ case to move forward in a Superfund action for contribution. See Arconic v. APC Investment, No. 19-55181 (9th Cir. Aug. 10, 2020), a case we had reported on here. At issue was whether a settlement between plaintiffs and certain de minimis parties for future potential response costs was an adequate triggering event for the statute of limitations period (against different defendants) in an action for contribution under CERCLA Section 113(f). The Ninth Circuit held that it was not, explaining that in the context of a “judicially approved settlement,” the proper triggering event was a settlement which imposed actual cleanup costs in excess of a party’s estimated liability at the site. 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 »

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 »

This Post was primarily authored by Andrew LeDonne, a MGKF summer associate. 

On July 17, 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s interpretation of a release agreement between ASARCO and the Union Pacific Railroad Company (“UP”)  to preclude ASARCO's claim against UP to recover cleanup costs for the Coeur d’Alene superfund site (the "CDA Site"). ASARCO LLC v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 2019 WL 3216615 (9th Cir. July 17, 2019).  This was the second time that the Ninth Circuit had the matter before it, and dispatched it with few words -- but with enough to remind practitioners of the importance of careful wording of settlement and release agreements.  Read More »

In a back and forth battle with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Arizona regarding the scope of judicial power under RCRA, the Ninth Circuit last week reopened three interest groups’ citizen suit claims against the U.S. Forest Service. In Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Forest Serv., No. 17-15790, 2019 WL 2293425 (9th Cir. May 30, 2019), the plaintiffs allege that the use of lead ammunition creates an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment in the Kaibab National Forest, which borders Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona. Reversing the district court, the Ninth Circuit held that the controversy is justiciable because it would allow the district court to issue meaningful injunctive relief and not merely an advisory opinion. Read More »

On January 15, the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment in Arconic, Inc., et al. v. APC Inv. Co., Case No. CV-14-6456-GW (C.D. Cal. Jan. 15, 2019), ruling that Plaintiffs’ contribution claims under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) Section 113(g)(3) were barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitations. What makes the decision noteworthy is that the Court found that the limitations period began to run ten years before the Plaintiffs entered into the Consent Decree with EPA and the State of California to undertake the remediation giving rise to the contribution claim. Read More »

The Ninth Circuit recently reversed a grant of summary judgment by the United States District Court for the Central District of California in California Department of Toxic Substances Control v. Westside Delivery, LLC, No. 16-56558, 2018 WL 1973715 (9th Cir. Apr. 27, 2018), holding that a defendant who purchased real property at a tax sale had a “contractual relationship” with the previous owner “in connection with” the polluting activities, and therefore was not entitled to a third-party defense under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). In this case, California’s environmental agency, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), sought to recover clean up costs from a subsequent owner of the contaminated property and the owner asserted as a defense, recognized under CERCLA, that the contamination was caused by a third party prior to it taking title with whom it had no contractual relationship. The matter before the court was one of first impression in the Ninth Circuit: “Does a defendant who buys real property at a tax sale have a ‘contractual relationship’ with the previous owner of the property within the meaning of CERCLA?” Id. at *1. The court’s affirmative answer will give pause to prospective tax-defaulted property purchasers who may find themselves liable for cleanup costs under CERCLA. Read More »

Do indirect discharges of pollutants into navigable waters amount to a violation of the Clean Water Act? On February 1st, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al. v. County of Maui, No. 15-17447, that discharges of pollutants originating from a point source violate the Clean Water Act even if the pollutants first enter another means of conveyance—in this case groundwater—before entering into a navigable waterway. Despite recent EPA efforts to roll back certain environmental regulations, the court gave no deference to EPA’s amicus curiae proposed liability rule requiring a “direct hydrological connection” between the point source and the navigable water. Read More »