Category Archives: Court Cases

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Ninth Circuit, in Narrow Holding, Limits Amount Recoverable in CERCLA Contribution Claim to Response Costs Already Incurred

In ASARCO v. Atlantic Richfield, No. 18-35934 (9th Cir. Sept. 14, 2020), ASARCO entered into a consent decree under which ASARCO agreed to pay $111.4 million. ASARCO then sought contribution from Atlantic Richfield. The district court found Atlantic Richfield to be responsible for 25% of ASARCO’s response costs. The Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s allocation … Continue Reading

Third Circuit Considers the Scope of “Matters Addressed” in CERCLA Settlements

This week, the Third Circuit issued an opinion in NJDEP v. American Thermoplastics Corp et al., No. 18-2865, which adds a new wrinkle on CERCLA section 113(f)(2), which bars non-settling parties from bringing claims for contribution against settling parties, while also placing new emphasis on CERCLA section 104 cooperative agreements in the context of settlements. … Continue Reading

Pa. Supreme Court Considers the Trial Court’s ‘Gatekeeper’ Role Under Frye

On July 21, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an anticipated decision in Walsh v. BASF Corp, in which it considered the trial court’s role as the “gatekeeper” for expert testimony, tackling again the state’s application of the Frye test—as opposed to the Daubert test most frequently applied in federal courts and a majority of … Continue Reading

McGirt v. Oklahoma: Understanding What the Supreme Court’s Native American Treaty Rights Decision Is and Is Not

Confusion permeates the public arena as to what the U.S. Supreme Court recently did – and didn’t do – by ruling in favor of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, a federally recognized Native American tribe, and against the state in McGirt v. Oklahoma. Not since a grinning incumbent President Harry S. Truman hoisted The Chicago Daily … Continue Reading

The National Marine Fisheries Service is Angling to Regulate Aquaculture; the Fifth Circuit Won’t Bite

On Aug. 3, 2020, a split Fifth Circuit plunged federal aquaculture regulation into murky waters. The United States is a minor aquaculture producer, ranked 17th in 2017 on a global scale – but it is the leading importer of fish and fishery products. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), by weight, approximately … Continue Reading

Navigability: It’s Not Just for the Federal Clean Water Act Anymore

A curious appellate court decision has Pennsylvania environmental law practitioners scratching their heads about the status of certain waterways. No, we do not reference the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest Clean Water Act decision in County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, __ U.S. __ (2020) from May, where six of the nine justices held … Continue Reading

7th Circuit Lowers Removal Hurdle for Defendants That Assisted the Feds

On June 18, 2020, the Seventh Circuit handed down a decision in a case involving historical environmental contamination that eases the path to federal court for defendants who are haled into state court for acts that occurred while defendants were assisting the federal government. In Sherrie Baker et al. v. Atlantic Richfield Company, E. I. … Continue Reading

Can a Settlement with the Regulator Protect You from Your Neighbors in Massachusetts?

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the court of last resort in the Commonwealth) issued a decision in a land use case today of potential concern for environmental practitioners. It raises the question whether a settlement by a regulated entity and the regulator protects the settling party from further claims by neighbor against the settling party … Continue Reading

Commonwealth Court’s Invalidation of Pennsylvania PUC Defined Terms – Potential Net Metering Implications

On May 12, 2020, a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that certain net metering regulations of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) are unenforceable. The regulations at issue are related to the implementation of Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act (AEPS Act), which incentivizes the use of electricity generated by renewable … Continue Reading

New York State Court Greenlights New Islanders Arena Project

A New York State Supreme Court Justice in Nassau County dismissed two separate challenges to the state government approvals of a new arena for the NHL’s New York Islanders hockey team. The challenges to the Belmont Redevelopment Project were brought by a neighboring village and a group of citizens seeking to stop the ongoing construction … Continue Reading

Federal Judge in Montana Narrows Vacatur of Nationwide Permit 12

On April 17, we posted about the federal district court for Montana vacating the Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12 and enjoining the Army Corps of Engineers’ authorization for the use of NWP 12 on any utility projects in the nation (including pipelines, transmission lines and communications lines) on the grounds that the Corps had not complied … Continue Reading

Supreme Court: Pollutants Reaching Navigable Waters Through Groundwater May Require Permit Under Clean Water Act

Rejecting the Trump administration’s novel 2019 interpretation that the Clean Water Act never requires permits for pollutant discharges to groundwater, the United States Supreme Court handed down, on April 23, its eagerly awaited decision in County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, et al. The 6-3 majority held that Section 301 of the Clean … Continue Reading

The Supreme Court Allows State Law Claims for More Cleanup on Superfund Sites . . . Sometimes

On April 20, the United States Supreme Court decided that Montana homeowners within a Superfund site could seek to recover the costs of restoration of their land to its uncontaminated condition – a more complete cleanup than the Superfund remedy would accomplish – but only if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) ultimately approved the … Continue Reading

Federal Judge Prohibits Use of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12 for Utility and Pipeline Projects

In an April 15 ruling in Northern Plains Resource Council, et al. v. Army Corps of Engineers, Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana vacated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Act Nationwide Permit 12 and enjoined the Corps from using NWP 12 to authorize any dredge … Continue Reading

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Clarifies Application of Fair Share Act to Strict Liability Asbestos Claims

In 2011, The Fair Share Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7402, became law. The Fair Share Act changed the law of joint and several liability for actions sounding in negligence, eliminating joint and several liability except under certain exceptions. Under the Act, “a defendant’s liability shall be several and not joint, and the court shall enter a separate … Continue Reading

Fourth Circuit Rejects Statute of Limitations Challenge to FERC Electricity Market Manipulation Suit

On Feb. 11, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not overstep the statute of limitations in its effort to impose more than $29 million in civil penalties over alleged wholesale electricity market manipulation carried out by Dr. Houlian Chen and other associated financial … Continue Reading

Rule of Capture is Back for Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Wells . . . Sort Of

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision that appeared to make the “rule of capture” inapplicable to oil and gas wells subjected to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Briggs v. Sw. Energy Production Co., No. 63 MAP 2018 (Pa. Jan. 22, 2020) (see majority opinion; see concurring and dissenting opinion). However, the … Continue Reading

Environmental Cases in the Pennsylvania Appellate Courts During 2019

By my count, the three Pennsylvania appellate courts decided 27 environmental cases in 2019. Categorization is somewhat subjective, so I apologize for any omissions. For brevity, citations are truncated, and omitted years are 2019. This survey briefly characterizes those cases under the following categories: Environmental Rights Amendment; pre-emption of local regulation; other local land use … Continue Reading

The Dutch Supreme Court Obliges the Dutch Government to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On 20 December 2019 the Dutch Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the case of Urgenda against the Dutch State. In 2013, the NGO Urgenda started a civil law procedure against the Dutch State for “knowingly exposing its own citizens to danger” by not taking sufficient measures to prevent climate change and therefore not preventing … Continue Reading

United States Indicts Facility Owner Under Clean Air Act General Duty Clause

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to increase its enforcement role in industrial accidents, at times overshadowing the role traditionally played by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). EPA often takes tougher enforcement actions than OSHA and is more willing to bring criminal charges. This trend is reflected in a recent case affirming … Continue Reading

Maryland Court of Appeals Limits Bases for Challenging CWA Permits under the Chesapeake Bay TMDL

A recent state appellate court decision sharply limited the bases on which Clean Water Act permittees may challenge permitting requirements imposed to comply with a federal Chesapeake Bay “Total Maximum Daily Load” (“TMDL”), often described as a watershed-wide “pollution diet.” The decision directly impacts municipalities with separate stormwater sewer (“MS4”) permits, as well as certain … Continue Reading

Environmental Compliance and Land Use “Special Permits” in Massachusetts

Does compliance with environmental regulations suffice to prove that an operation is safe? Maybe not, for purposes of land use approvals in Massachusetts. Last week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court decided Fish v. Accidental Autobody, Inc., No. 18-P-345 (Mass. App. Ct. May 24, 2019), an appeal from the grant of a “special permit” for an autobody … Continue Reading

Enforcing the CERCLA Permit Bar . . . in State Court

From David G. Mandelbaum, a member of the Massachusetts Bar: As is familiar, section 121(e)(1) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. § 9621(e)(1), exempts Superfund cleanups from all federal, state, and local permits. In addition, section 113(b) grants the federal district courts exclusive jurisdiction “over all controversies arising under” CERCLA. … Continue Reading

Contradicting the Department of Justice, EPA Changes Stance on Groundwater Discharges

Contradicting the argument raised by the United States in a recent amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the EPA finalized new guidance on April 12, 2019, concluding that the Clean Water Act “is best read as excluding all releases of pollutants from a point source to groundwater from NPDES … Continue Reading
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