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Federal Courts of Appeal

Dam Claims Collapse
On May 7, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided the case of Navelski, et al. v. International Paper Company. After a major storm, a dam constructed by International Paper to serve the operations of its local paper mill, was breached, releasing millions of gallons of water into a nearby creek resulting in the flooding of many homes located downstream from the creek. IP was sued by the homeowners in a class action, alleging negligence and strict liability for conducting an abnormally dangerous activity. The trial court dismissed the strict liability claim, and the jury found IP was not negligent in the operation of the dam. On appeal, the court upheld the jury verdict, agreeing that the verdict was supported by the evidence heard by the jury. The appeals court also agreed that the strict liability claim was properly dismissed as a matter of law because the operation of this dam was not an abnormally dangerous activity under Florida law. The plaintiffs had also argued that the jury should not have been advised that the home county, Escambia County, has applied for a FEMA grant which apparently made the case that some of the downstream homes were naturally prone to flooding. A redacted version of the application was allowed to be shown to the jury, but the appeals court held that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the court ruling was prejudicial.

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iStock-537528238-court-of-appeal-300x199Can an employer recover liquidated damages (LDs) from a contractor if the contract terminates before the contractor completes the work?

Surprisingly, heretofore, English law provided no clear answer to this seemingly straightforward question, and inconsistent case law over the past century has left a trail of confusion. Given the widespread use of English law in international construction contracts, this uncertainty had gone on far too long.

The good news is that drafters of construction contracts throughout the world can now have a well-deserved good night’s sleep courtesy of the English Court of Appeal’s March 2019 decision in Triple Point Technology, Inc. v PTT Public Company Ltd [2019] EWCA Civ 230.

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seal-of-the-city-of-san-francisco-300x300Ordinance 52-19 became effective in April 2019 and expands upon existing San Francisco Building Code registration requirements for “Vacant or Abandoned” “Commercial Storefronts.”

A storefront becomes “Vacant or Abandoned” once it has been unoccupied for 30 days (among other earlier triggers for blighted or unsecured storefronts). A “Commercial Storefront” is broadly defined as “any area within a building that may be individually leased or rented for any purpose other than Residential Use as defined in Planning Code.” (See § 103.A.5.1 of the San Francisco Building Code.) So, a building that is 97% leased could still contain a Vacant or Abandoned Commercial Storefront, which would technically require registration under the Building Code.

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Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Texas-300x300On May 3, 2019, the Texas Supreme Court issued a significant administrative law ruling in the case of Mosely v. Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The court held, unsurprisingly, that under the Texas Administrative Procedure Act (Texas APA), an appellant seeking review of an administrative action must first file a petition for rehearing with the Administrative Law Judge, “unless another statute plainly provides otherwise.” However, when the agency, as here, provided seriously incorrect information to the appellant about the proper procedures to follow to seek review of an adverse order, that action can, “under some circumstances,” violate the appellant’s constitutional right to due process.

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iStock-946047540-opportunity-300x225On April 17, 2019, the IRS issued its much anticipated second tranche of guidance (the “2019 Proposed Regulations”) on the qualified opportunity zone (QOZ) program established by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The 2019 Proposed Regulations discuss a number of issues that were left unaddressed by the initial set of proposed regulations issued by the IRS in October of 2018 (the “Initial Proposed Regulations”) and provide further clarity on some issues that were touched upon in those initial regulations. This is welcome news to eager investors interested in taking advantage of the benefits of investing their capital gains in qualified opportunity funds (QOFs), particularly those wishing to deploy capital in businesses outside the realm of traditional real estate development. While we have not attempted to describe every aspect of the 2019 Proposed Regulations, a summary of certain key provisions is set forth below.

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BSEE_logo-300x214The looming decommissioning liabilities of offshore energy producers have been a focus of the federal government in recent years. One recent case out of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Taylor Energy v. United States, highlights the tension between the federal government’s desire to maintain financial security for decommissioning activities, and that of an operator whose security is tied up indefinitely while the government awaits technological advances to allow for safe decommissioning.

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Environmental_Protection_Agency_logo-275x300After much study, EPA has decided against changing its current RCRA Subtitle D rules affecting the state regulation of oil and gas exploration & production waste. Since 1988, EPA has determined that most such wastes should be regulated as only non-hazardous wastes subject to RCRA Subtitle D, and not the more onerous hazardous waste provisions of RCRA Subtitle C. (See the Regulatory Determination of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Exploration, Development and Production Wastes, 53 FR 25,446 (July 6,1988).)

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Environmental_Protection_Agency_logo-275x300On Tuesday, April 23, 2019, in a development of interest to practically anyone who operates a plant or business, EPA published its Interpretive Statement in the Federal Register. (See 84 FR 16810 (April 23, 2019).) After considering the thousands of comments it received in response to a February 20, 2018, Federal Register notice, EPA has concluded that “the Clean Water Act (CWA) is best read as excluding all releases of pollutants from a point source to groundwater from a point source from NPDES program coverage, regardless of a hydrological connection between the groundwater and jurisdictional surface water.”

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