Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Oklahoma v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

Sep 21: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, Case No. 09-5134. The Cherokee Nation (the Nation) appeals the district court's denial of its motion to intervene in a dispute between the State of Oklahoma (the State) and Defendants-Appellees (collectively, Tyson). The State had sued Tyson because of Tyson's disposal of poultry waste in the Illinois River Watershed (IRW). The IRW, in which both the State and the Nation claim interests, covers approximately one million acres straddling the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. Within it are hundreds of large-scale poultry farms. Tyson operates some of these farms and contracts with other farmers to raise poultry until maturity, using methods established by Tyson; Tyson collects the poultry at maturity for processing and marketing. These poultry-growing operations generate hundreds of thousands of tons of poultry waste each year.
    Raising a number of legal theories, the State sought monetary relief for past and future damages and an injunction against alleged pollution. More than three years into the litigation, Tyson moved to dismiss the monetary claims on the ground that the Nation was a required party that had not been joined. The State argued that the Nation was not a required party but also negotiated an agreement in which the Nation purportedly assigned the State its interests in the litigation. The district court ruled that the agreement was invalid and granted Tyson's motion, restricting the previously scheduled trial to the State's claims for injunctive and other equitable relief.
    Nineteen days before trial the Nation moved to intervene so that it could proceed on three claims against Tyson for injunctive and monetary relief. The district court denied the motion as untimely. Although the Nation argued that it had moved promptly after learning that the State could not adequately represent the Nation's interests in the litigation, the district court ruled that the Nation had delayed too long, that Tyson would be severely prejudiced by the lengthy trial delay that would be necessary if the Nation were permitted to intervene, and that the Nation would not be prejudiced by a denial of intervention.
    In a split decision, the majority affirmed the district court denial and said it "did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to intervene. In particular, the district court could properly find that the Nation had unduly delayed seeking to intervene because from the outset of the litigation it had no reason to believe that the State would represent its interests in monetary relief."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).

Celanese Corp. v. Eby Construction Co.

Sep 20: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Case No. 09-20487. At issue is whether Eby is liable as an "arranger" under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA). The Appeals Court ruled that Eby is not an arranger, and affirmed the district court's final judgment, denying recovery to Celanese. Additionally the Appeals Court affirmed the district court's denial of Celanese's motion to alter that judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e).
    In explaining its decision, the Appeals Court says, "The district court found, and Celanese does not dispute, that Eby did not intentionally damage the pipeline. In fact, Eby did not even know that it had struck a pipeline; it only knew that it had struck something with a backhoe. Still, Celanese insists that Eby intentionally took steps to dispose of methanol by disregarding its obligations to investigate the incident and backfilling the excavated area where the incident had occurred. In other words, Celanese argues that Eby's conscious disregard of its duty to investigate is tantamount to intentionally taking steps to dispose of methanol. Burlington [Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. United States, 129 S. Ct. 1870, 1874 (2009)], however, precludes liability under these circumstances.
    "In Burlington, the Court declined to impose arranger liability for a defendant with more culpable mens rea. The defendant had actually arranged to ship hazardous chemicals under conditions that it knew would result in the spilling of a portion of the hazardous substance by the purchaser or common carrier. See Burlington, 129 S. Ct. at 1880. Given that there was no arranger liability under those circumstances, we fail to see how we can impose such liability here when Eby did not even know that it had struck the Celanese pipeline. Therefore, we hold that Eby is not liable as an arranger under CERCLA."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).