Articles Posted in Environmental

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On August 16, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the Idaho property of Michael and Chantell Sackett was a regulated wetlands under the then-controlling 1977 EPA rules defining “waters of the United States,” and that the Sacketts dredging and filling of their property was subject to regulation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or EPA. EPA’s case, as it has been for many years, was based on 2008 EPA and Corps inspection reports and Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test as the controlling opinion in the 2006 Supreme Court case, Rapanos v. United States. The Sacketts’ argument was that the text of the Clean Water Act, as interpreted by Justice Scalia and three other Justices, was controlling, but for several years, the Ninth Circuit has relied on Justice Kennedy’s opinion in these CWA controversies. The court’s opinion expressed considerable sympathy for the Sacketts as they negotiated the thicket of EPA’s regulatory processes, but it could not disregard circuit precedent. A few years ago, the Supreme Court ruled, in a unanimous decision, that EPA’s then extant administrative compliance orders were arbitrary and capricious. (See Sackett v. US, 566 US 120 (2015).) After that decision, the case was remanded to the federal district court, where it lingered for several more years.

It will be interesting to see if there will be another Supreme Court challenge to the Ninth Circuit’s disposition of the Sacketts’ Clean Water Act jurisdictional arguments.

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This is a brief account of some of the important environmental and administrative law cases recently decided.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT 

Pakdel v. City and County of San Francisco

On June 28, 2021, the Supreme Court decided this regulatory “takings” case, and, in a Per Curium opinion, reversed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that that petitioners had to exhaust their state administrative remedies before they could file this lawsuit under 42 USC Section 1983. The City government had already come to a sufficient regulatory conclusion, and the Constitution does not require additional processing. In so ruling, the Ninth Circuit ignored last term’s decision in Knick v. Township of Scott.

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What follows is a brief account of some of the notable U.S. environmental and administrative law cases recently decided.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

Nestle USA, Inc. et al. v. Doe, et al.
The Supreme Court has decided another important case interpreting the Alien Tort Statute. Released on June 17, 2021, this decision reverses the Ninth Circuit which had ruled that the respondents—six individuals who alleged they were child slaves employed on Ivory Coast cocoa farms, could sue the American-based companies for aiding and abetting child slave labor. Without dissent, the Court rejected this reading of the ATS and affirmed its own recent rulings on the scope of the ATS.

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This is a brief account of some of the important environmental and administrative law cases recently decided.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

BP PLC, et al. v Mayor and City of Baltimore
The issue the court confronted was a procedural matter: Can the defendant energy companies use the federal removal statutes (see 28 USC Section 1442) to remove a state law climate change lawsuit to federal court? Here, a group of energy companies were sued by the mayor and city council of Baltimore in state court, where they alleged that the defendants had concealed the adverse environmental effects of the fossil fuel products they promoted and sold in Baltimore City. Several similar lawsuits have been filed in many state courts, where typically it is alleged that the defendants can be sued on various common law theories. Rather than defend these cases in state court, the defendants have sought to remove these cases to federal court because climate change liability appears to be an issue that should be settled at the federal level. These efforts have been unsuccessful, with most federal trial and appellate courts holding that the reasons cited for removal (oftentimes the federal officer removal statute) have not been persuasive. In this case, both the Maryland federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals held they had no jurisdiction to authorize removal, and thus returned the case to the state court. Noting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that a removal action could be countenanced under Section 1442, thus creating a circuit split, the Supreme Court held that a straightforward reading of the removal statute empowers the reviewing court to examine all theories for removal that a district court has rejected. Consequently, the Court remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit where it can decide, “in the first instance,” whether there actually exist grounds to remove this case to federal court.

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This is a brief review of some of the significant environmental (and administrative law decisions) released the past few weeks.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

On April 22, 2021, the Court decided two important administrative law cases: Carr, et al. v. Saul and AMG Capital Management v. Federal Trade Commission.

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This is a brief report on new environmental law decisions, regulations and legislation.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

Massachusetts Lobsterman’s Association v. Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce
On March 22, 2021, the Supreme Court rejected a petition to review a Presidential decision to invoke the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate as a monument “an area of submerged land about the size of Connecticut” in the Atlantic Ocean. This action forbids all sorts of economic activity, which compelled the filing of litigation in the First Circuit challenging this designation. Chief Justice Roberts supported the Court’s denial of certiorari, but remarked that a stronger legal case may persuade the Court to review such liberal uses of the Antiquities Act.

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The federal courts have issued some significant environmental law rulings in the past few days.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, Inc.
On March 4, 2021, the court held that the deliberative process privilege of the Freedom of Information Act shields from disclosure in-house draft governmental biological opinions that are both “predecisional” and deliberative. According to the court, these opinions, opining on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) effects on aquatic species of a proposed federal rule affecting cooling water intake structures—which was promulgated in 2019—are exempt from disclosure because they do not reflect a “final” agency opinion. Indeed, these ESA-required opinions reflect a preliminary view, and the Services did not treat them as being the final or last word on the project’s desirability. The Sierra Club, invoking the FOIA, sought many records generated by the rulemaking proceeding, and received thousands of pages. However, the Service declined to release the draft biological opinions that were created in connection with the ESA consultative process.

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