Friday, October 30, 2009

California Energy Commission v. Department of Energy

Oct 28: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 07-71576. The California Energy Commission (CEC) petitions for review of an order of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) denying CEC’s request for a waiver of preemption under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA). The CEC sought the waiver in order to establish water efficiency standards for residential clothes washers, as set forth in its state regulations. To obtain such a waiver, CEC was required to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the state regulation was “needed to meet unusual and compelling State or local . . . water interests.”

DOE rejected the CEC’s petition for three separate reasons, but asserts that “each [of the reasons] flowed from CEC’s failure to provide adequate information to DOE to allow the federal agency to make an informed decision.” The DOE also challenged the court’s jurisdiction under the EPCA to review the denial of the waiver, raising an issue of first impression in the Ninth Circuit.

The Appeals Court said, "We hold that this court has jurisdiction under the EPCA. Because the DOE’s stated justifications demonstrate an arbitrary and capricious failure meaningfully to address the CEC’s application for a waiver, we reverse the
DOE’s ruling and remand for further proceedings."

The Appeals Court ruled further, "The CEC has requested that this Court order the DOE to grant the CEC’s waiver petition. However, this Court’s appropriate role is not to engage in the underlying analysis to determine whether the statutory criteria are met, even if the CEC might have supplied the DOE with sufficient information to do so. . . Considering the significant number of
issues left for resolution, many of which require factual findings in the DOE’s area of expertise, we decline to order a waiver on the present record. We reverse the challenged order of the DOE and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nkihtaqmikon v. Imson

Oct 28: In the U.S Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Case No. 08-2122. The appeal is the second in continuing litigation by a group of members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe called Nulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon (NN) -- the phrase means "We Protect the Homeland," -- to challenge a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) decision which approved a lease of a plot of Passamaquoddy land for the construction and operation of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility, contingent on Federal regulatory approval being obtained from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Based on a previous ruling by the Appeals Court in this case that the "exhaustion of agency remedies was 'mandatory' under governing precedent," the district court on remand dismissed the case -- leaving NN to pursue its internal Interior Department appeals before resuming (if necessary) litigation in the district court.

As stated by the Appeals Court, NN's main argument against the prior decision is that "unless a statute requires exhaustion, judicial review of agency action under the APA, applicable where no other statutory channel of review is provided, does not require exhaustion unless there is both internal agency review available and the final agency action is rendered inoperative during such review."

The Appeals Court rules that the NN "attack is foreclosed by our mandate unless our earlier decision was plainly wrong and following it would cause a serious injustice. Neither condition has been satisfied. . . None of these developments affects our analysis in the present appeal. The district court's judgment is affirmed."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rhode Island Fishermen's Alliance v. Rhode Island DEM

Oct 23: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Case No. 08-2390. The case involves regulations which imposed restrictions on lobster-trap allocations for Rhode Island waters. The challenge to them centers on the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM's) alleged use of "retroactive control dates" in composing the regulatory scheme.

According to the Appeals Court, "This appeal brings us face to face with two exotic creatures: the American lobster and a state-law claim that may or may not contain an embedded federal question sufficient to ground a claim of original jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (commonly known as "federal question" jurisdiction). Cases of this sort require courts to venture into a murky jurisprudence. The answers are rarely black or white but, rather, more often doused in varying shades of gray. The difficult jurisdictional question presented here is no exception."

The underlying case began as a state-court challenge to regulations promulgated by the DEM. Those regulations imposed restrictions on lobster-trap allocations for Rhode Island waters. The challenge to them centers on the DEM's alleged use of retroactive control dates in composing the regulatory scheme.
The Court explains that a "control date" is "a cut off date for potential use in establishing eligibility criteria for future access to a fishery." Neither the relevant statute nor the challenged regulation, however, defines the term "retroactive control date." The plaintiffs aver that the DEM employed "retroactive control dates" by limiting, in 2006, fishermen's future access to fishing resources based on each fisherman's documented catch during 2001-2003.
The DEM thought that it was obliged to adopt the retroactive control dates by federal law. Accordingly, it removed the case to the federal district court. The plaintiffs moved to remand, but the district court refused to relinquish jurisdiction. The court subsequently granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Appeals Court said, "After careful consideration of the plaintiffs' ensuing appeal, we agree that the district court appropriately exercised federal question jurisdiction over the case." Accordingly, the Appeals Court affirmed both the district court's denial of the plaintiffs' motion to remand and its grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Comer v. Murphy Oil USA

Oct 16: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Case No. 07-60756. This case represents another major decision regarding citizen enforcement, utilizing common-law actions and seeking damages resulting from corporate greenhouse gas emissions. The case follows another recent related decision in State of Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co. Inc. issued on September 21, 2009, by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit [See WIMS 9/22/09].

As explained by the Appeals Court, the plaintiffs, residents and owners of lands and property along the Mississippi Gulf coast, filed this putative class action in the district court against the named defendants, corporations that have principal offices in other states but are doing business in Mississippi. The plaintiffs allege that defendants’ operation of energy, fossil fuels, and chemical industries in the United States caused the emission of greenhouse gasses that contributed to global warming, viz., the increase in global surface air and water temperatures, that in turn caused a rise in sea levels and added to the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina, which combined to destroy the plaintiffs’ private property, as well as public property useful to them.

The plaintiffs’ putative class action asserts claims for compensatory and punitive damages based on Mississippi common-law actions of public and private nuisance, trespass, negligence, unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation, and civil conspiracy. The plaintiffs invoked the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. The plaintiffs do not assert any federal or public law actions and do not seek injunctive relief.

Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims on the grounds that the plaintiffs lack standing to assert their claims and that their claims present "nonjusticiable political questions." The district court granted the motion and dismissed the claims. The plaintiffs timely appealed.

The Appeals Court ruled, "For the reasons discussed herein, we conclude that the plaintiffs have standing to assert their public and private nuisance, trespass, and negligence claims, and that none of these claims present nonjusticiable political questions; but we conclude that their unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation, and civil conspiracy claims must be dismissed for prudential standing reasons. Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s judgment, dismiss the plaintiffs’ suit in part, and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings."

The Appeals Court explains that the district court began its analysis of the political question doctrine by stating “that the problem [in this case] is one in which this court is simply ill-equipped or unequipped with the power that it has to address these issues.” Describing this suit as a “debate” about global warming. The district court judge said he should not be forced "to balance economic, environmental, foreign policy, and national security interests and make an initial policy determination of a kind which is simply nonjudicial."

In its conclusion the Appeals Court said, "The plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient facts to demonstrate standing for their public and private nuisance, trespass, and negligence claims. We decline to find standing for the unjust enrichment, civil conspiracy, and fraudulent misrepresentation claims and dismiss these claims. We find that the plaintiffs’ remaining claims are justiciable and do not present a political question. We do not hazard, at this early procedural stage, an Erie guess into whether these claims actually state all the elements of a claim under Mississippi tort law, e.g., whether the alleged chain of causation satisfies the proximate cause requirement under Mississippi state common law; we leave this analysis to the district court in the first instance. Thus, for the foregoing reasons, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

On attorney, Paul Mollica, with the law firm of Meites, Mulder, Mollica & Glink in Chicago commented on the company blog that, "The headline for this case ought to read: 'Fifth Circuit More Activist Than San-Francisco-Based Court." A panel of Fifth Circuit judges reverse dismissal of a potentially immense tort class action, under Mississippi law, alleging trespass, nuisance and negligence in relation to the emission of greenhouse gasses.'" Mollica concludes his comments saying, "One thought: if anything might prompt Congress to regulate the greenhouse gas field preemptively, it would be the peril of having an incensed Mississippi jury decide the issue instead."

The blog, Global Environmental Law posted a comment on the case saying, "The court held that the case did not pose a nonjusticiable political question and that the plaintiffs had standing in light of the U.S Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. While the case returns to the district court for trial, it remains a decided longshot on the merits in light of the attenuated causal link between climate change and Hurricane Katrina. Indeed Judge Davis in a special concurrence opined that the case could be dismissed for failure to allege facts that would establish that GHG emissions from the defendants were a proximate cause of injury from Hurricane Katrina."

Access the complete 36-page opinion (
click here). Access the complete blog post by Paul Mollica (click here). Access the complete Global Environmental Law blog post (click here).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

AMW Materials Testing, Inc. v. Town of Babylon

Oct 19: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, Case No. 08-1731. The case involved a fire at a commercial building during which hazardous materials were released into the environment. Plaintiff owners sued the local entities that responded to the emergency in the under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), New York tort law, and New York Navigation Law to recover cleanup costs. Plaintiffs appealed a judgment from the district court in favor of defendants arguing that defendants qualify as a matter of law as “operators” of the facility from which hazardous materials were released, and that emergency response actions cannot constitute an affirmative defense to liability. The Appeals Court said, "Both arguments are unpersuasive" and affirmed the district court decision in favor of defendants.

The Appeals Court summarized its decision as follows: "(1) Section 9607(d)(2) of Title 42 is an affirmative defense to CERCLA liability under § 9607(a), and, accordingly, the district court did not err in treating it as such; (2) Whether the § 9607(a) claims in this case were properly tried to a jury or to the court, on the trial record no reasonable factfinder could decline to find that defendants are entitled to the affirmative defense set forth in § 9607(d)(2); (3) The district court properly referenced the factors set forth in Cuffy v. City of New York, 69 N.Y.2d 255, 260, 513 N.Y.S.2d 372, 375 (1987), in charging the jury as to plaintiffs’ theory of defendants’ municipal liability for negligence under New York law. (4) The district court properly denied plaintiffs’ motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial on their claim for the discharge of petroleum under N.Y. Nav. Law § 181(1)."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

IL Dunesland Preserve v. IL Dept of Natural Resources

Oct 14: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, Case No. 09-1535. According to the Appeals Court, in this suit regarding free speech and First Amendment rights, the Illinois Beach State Park is a large state park abutting Lake Michigan in northeastern Illinois; it attracts upward of two million visitors in some years. The plaintiff, a nonprofit corporation that helped to create and continues to support the park, filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [i.e. Civil action for deprivation of rights] against state officials involved in its management and the state agency that operates the park, charging infringement of free speech.

The defendants refused to display in the display racks in various buildings in the park a scary two-page pamphlet that the plaintiff had prepared. Entitled “Tips for Avoiding Asbestos Contamination at Illinois Beach State Park,” the pamphlet recommends “commonsense approaches . . . for minimizing exposure to you and your family from asbestos contamination while at the beaches of Illinois Beach State Park.” It warns that “many pieces of asbestos have been tumbling along the shoreline for years,” that “microscopic asbestos can be released from the sand when agitated,” and that “disturbing the sand can cause asbestos to become airborne.” And since “asbestos fibers can be found wherever beach sand can go,” the reader is advised to “wash your whole body including hair, ears, and under fingernails. Pets should also be washed down prior to leaving the beach . . . Take care when shaking out towels and blankets that may have come into contact with sand. Remove all beach clothing prior to entering your car or home. Launder beach clothing, blankets, and towels separately. Store shoes and other hard to clean items outside of the home.”

The Appeals Court notes that while the beaches do contain asbestos fibers, several cited state and Federal studies have not found levels of asbestos sufficient to menace human health. Additionally, the Appeals Court said, ""In this case, which involves a First Amendment issue, the lawyers have treated us to a barrage of unhelpful First Amendment jargon."

In conclusion, the Appeals Court affirmed the district court ruling and said, ". . .the district judge noted that the plaintiff 'did not seek to distribute its flyer within the Park by any means other than inclusion in the display racks.' The judge added that 'no special permit or license is required to hand out pamphlets to Park visitors.' The park authorities cannot impose unreasonable barriers to using open public space to convey ideas and opinions (remember that a park is 'a traditional public forum'), but there has been no showing that they’ve tried to do this."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Orange County Water District v. Unocal Corp

Oct 1: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, Case No. 07-5724. In this case involving the chemical gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and including major international oil and chemical companies as Defendants, Orange County Water District petitions for a writ of mandamus are denied by the Appeals Court. The County's petitions challenged a November 7, 2007 order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York which denied a motion to remand to state court. The Appeals Court said in its denial, "We hold that our prior opinion in this multi-district litigation did not preclude the District Court’s conclusion that petitioners failed to file a timely motion for remand ... because the purportedly erroneous removal under. . . did not implicate the District Court’s subject matter jurisdiction. Furthermore, we conclude that any challenge to the District Court’s subject matter jurisdiction is best addressed on direct appeal, rather than by a writ of mandamus."

The Appeals Court said the question presented is whether a district court may retain jurisdiction when a case was improperly removed to Federal court. Specifically, the Appeals Court ruled as to whether improper removal under the bankruptcy removal statute requires subsequent remand to state court.

By way of background and summary the Appeals Court explains, "The Orange County Water District (OCWD) petitions for a writ of mandamus challenging a November 7, 2007 order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Shira A. Scheindlin, Judge), denying OCWD’s motion to remand the case from the Southern District of New York to California state court. OCWD argues that this Court’s decision in In re MTBE Prods. Liab. Litig., 488 F.3d 112 (2d Cir. 2007) (MTBE) -- which involved other parties in this multi-district litigation -- required the District Court to remand OCWD’s action. Specifically, OCWD contends as follows: (1) this Court’s opinion in MTBE requires that the District Court find that OCWD asserted a timely objection under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) to the improper application of the bankruptcy removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1452(a); and, alternatively, (2) the District Court was required to abstain pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1334(c)(2) because it lacked 'core' bankruptcy jurisdiction. We deny OCWD’s petition for a writ of mandamus because we conclude that: (1) our opinion in MTBE did not require the District Court to remand OCWD’s action, and (2) OCWD’s alternative jurisdictional arguments can be reviewed in the regular course of appeal."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).