Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crandall v. Denver

Feb 8: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, Case No. 08-1197. Plaintiffs Terri Crandall and JoAnn Hubbard sued for injunctive relief against the City and County of Denver under the citizen-suit provision of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA). Their concern is that aircraft deicing fluid (ADF), which can produce hydrogen-sulfide gas when it decomposes, endangers human health at Concourse B of the Denver International Airport. The gates on Concourse B are used almost exclusively by United Airlines. Crandall is a United employee, and Hubbard is a former employee who now frequently uses Concourse B as a passenger. Plaintiffs seek: (1) to prohibit full-plane deicing at Concourse B gates; and (2) to require other precautionary steps relating to ADF.
    Following a five-day bench trial, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado denied Plaintiffs relief. It found that Denver no longer permits full-plane deicing at the gates and held that Plaintiffs had not shown that the current use of ADF "may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health," which is a prerequisite for RCRA relief. The court also held that RCRA does not govern all the ADF by Concourse B at the Denver Airport, but only the ADF "that flows in storm water into Concourse B and degrades in Concourse B." The ADF that degrades outside the concourse, it said, was governed exclusively by permits issued under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
    On appeal Plaintiffs argue that the district court misconstrued RCRA's requirements with respect to injunctive relief. They also contend that the court erred in holding that the CWA, rather than RCRA, governs some of the ADF at the Denver Airport. The Appeals Court ruled, "We affirm the district court's denial of injunctive relief. Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that ADF at the airport (whether it degrades inside or outside Concourse B) may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health. Because relief under RCRA would therefore not be available even if RCRA governs the ADF that degrades outside the concourse, we need not address whether such ADF is governed exclusively by the CWA."
    The Appeals Court said further, "A RCRA suit cannot be brought because someone may sometime begin disposing of solid waste in a manner that presents an endangerment. The endangering practice -- here, the resumption of gate deicing -- must be imminent. See 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B). Plaintiffs' suit was properly dismissed because the evidence showed that resumption of full-plane gate deicing at Concourse B was not imminent, but merely speculative. If the district court had been persuaded by the evidence that Denver would likely resume full-plane deicing at the gates upon conclusion of this litigation and that such a practice may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health, we presume that it could properly issue an injunction under RCRA. That, however, is not the case we have before us."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).