Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League filed suit against various parties under federal law to stop what it fears will be significant degradation to 485 acres of freshwater wetlands and its conversion to saltwater wetlands. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action as moot where the record on appeal does not support the proposition that granting the League the relief it seeks on any of its claims will likely prevent the water within the Embanked Tract from becoming more saline. Because the district court’s mootness ruling is sound and the League has offered no additional basis for standing, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying, on the ground of futility, the League’s motion seeking leave to amend its First Amended Complaint. View "South Carolina Coastal v. U.S. Army Corps" on Justia Law

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In the early 1980s, Georgia Power Company sold a number of its used electrical transformers to Ward Transformer Company (Ward). Because the electrical transformers contained toxic compounds that have been banned since 1979, Ward repaired and rebuilt the transformers for resale to meet third-party customers’ specifications. In the process, one of Ward’s facilities in Raleigh, North Carolina (the Ward Site) became contaminated. In the 2000s, the EPA initiated a costly removal action at the Ward Site. Consolidated Coal Company and PCS Phosphate Company, Inc. each paid more than $17 million in cleanup costs related to the Ward Site. In 2008 and 2009, they filed complaints under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act against Georgia Power alleging that, as supplier of some of the transformers to Ward, Georgia Power should be liable for a contribution to those costs. The district court granted summary judgment for Georgia Power. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the circumstances of the transformer sales did not indicate Georgia Power’s intent to dispose of the toxic compounds and therefore did not support arranger liability. View "Consolidation Coal Co. v. Georgia Power Co." on Justia Law

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The Forest Service manages the Chatooga River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA), 16 U.S.C. 1274 et seq. In 2012, the Forest Service revised its management plan for the Chatooga to allow floating on most of the Headwaters during the winter months, when flows are highest and conditions are best. American Whitewater argues that the revised plan does not go far enough and that the remaining limits on floating are inconsistent with the WSRA and arbitrary and capricious. Two intervening parties, ForestWatch and the Rusts, argue that the Forest Service's decision to allow floating goes too far, contending that the WSRA prohibits any floating on the Headwaters whatsoever, and that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. The court agreed with the district court's well-reasoned opinion where the district court rejected both sets of challenges and found that the Forest Service's revised plan carefully balanced the wide-ranging interests advocated by the several parties and participants. The court affirmed the judgment. View "American Whitewater v. Thomas Tidwell" on Justia Law

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This dispute concerns the Bonner Bridge, which provides highway access between mainland North Carolina and the Outer Bank's Hatteras Island. Plaintiffs filed suit claiming that defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321-4370f, and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. Defendants settled on a plan that essentially mirrors what currently exists: replacing the Bonner Bridge and maintaining NC 12 on Hatteras Island. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' NEPA challenge where defendants have not engaged in unlawful segmentation with respect to the five studied parallel bridge alternatives. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' Section 4(f) challenge because a Section 4(f) analysis is irrelevant if the joint planning exception applies. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. NC Dept. of Transp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the EPA seeking declaratory relief in connection with its administrative enforcement proceedings against her. CBF moved to intervene but the district court denied the motion as untimely. The court concluded that when CBF moved to intervene, the proceedings had already reached a relatively advanced stage. Further, CBF conceded that its belated intervention would cause some delay and would require plaintiffs to expend "extra effort." CBF's deliberate forbearance understandably engendered little sympathy. Accordingly, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to intervene. View "Chesapeake Bay Foundation v. Alt" on Justia Law

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A&G owns and operates the Kelly Branch Surface Mine in Virginia. Plaintiff filed suit against A&G for declaratory and injunctive relief and civil penalties, contending that A&G was violating the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq., by discharging selenium from Kelly Branch without authorization to do so. The court held that A&G could not assert a "permit shield" defense for discharges of selenium when it failed to disclose the presence of this pollutant during the permit application process. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to plaintiff. View "Southern Appalachian Mountain v. A & G Coal Corp." on Justia Law

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This case concerned a class action filed against defendants for contamination of plaintiffs' properties by gasoline and a gasoline additive (the Koch action). Former Koch class members subsequently filed a new class action (the Ackerman action). On appeal, defendants challenged the district court's order abstaining from exercising jurisdiction under the Colorado River doctrine. The court held that 28 U.S.C. 1446(d) affected only the jurisdiction of the state court only with regard to the case actually removed to federal court; because Koch was not removed, the state court maintained jurisdiction over it, and the amendment to the complaint in that case was not void ab initio; and the district court was correct to consider the amended Koch complaint in determining whether the Koch and Ackerman actions were parallel, and the district court did not abuse its discretion when concluding that exceptional circumstances warranted abstention in favor of the pending Koch action. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Ackerman v. ExxonMobil Corp." on Justia Law

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The government appealed the district court's order which altered the terms of a bond the Coast Guard had fixed for the release of a detained ship that was under investigation and restricted the types of penalties the government could seek for the ship's potential violations of certain ocean pollution prevention statutes. The ship at issue, the Pappadakis, an ocean-going bulk cargo carrier carrying a shipment of coal to Brazil, was detained by the Coast Guard because the vessel had likely been discharging bilge water overboard. The court reversed and remanded for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) where the matter was not subject to review in the district court because the Coast Guard's actions were committed to agency discretion by law. Consequently, the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition. View "Angelex Ltd. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a nuisance action against CTS because their well water contained solvents that had carcinogenic effects. The district court dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6), concluding that North Carolina's ten-year limitation on the accrual of real property claims barred the suit. The court reversed and remanded, holding that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Liability, and Compensation Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601-9675, preempted North Carolina's ten-year limitation. In so holding, the court furthered Congress's intent that victims of toxic waste not be hindered in their attempts to hold accountable those who have strewn such waste in their land. View "Waldburger v. CTS Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs commenced this action to challenge the fill permit issued under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344(a), contending, inter alia, that the Corps, in conducting its analysis for the section 404 permit, "materially misapprehended" the baseline conditions in the relevant watershed, thus corrupting its analysis of the cumulative impact that the Reylas mine would have on the streams in the watershed. The court found no merit to plaintiffs' claim that the Corps "misapprehended" the baseline conditions where the Corps considered the relevant factors, evaluating both the impact site and the entire watershed. Because the Corps' analysis satisfied the National Environmental Policy Act's, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., procedural requirements, the Corps' finding of cumulative insignificance was neither arbitrary nor capricious. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Ohio Valley Environmental v. U.S. Army Corps" on Justia Law