Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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In 1996, when she was an infant, Cynthia's family moved to the "Acreage" in Palm Beach County, Florida, about 10 miles from undeveloped land that Pratt used for tests that contaminated the soil. By 1993, most of the soil at the site required removal. Cynthia’s parents allege that in 1993-2000, Pratt excavated contaminated soil that was sold as “fill” for the Acreage and that runoff from the contaminated soil leached into the Acreage’s water supply. In 2009, the Florida Department of Health found a cluster of pediatric brain cancer cases in the Acreage. In 2009, doctors diagnosed Cynthia with ependymoma brain cancer, which metastasized to her spine. Doctors detected thorium-230 in Cynthia’s spine hundreds of times higher than would normally be expected. Cynthia turned 18 in 2014 and filed suit, alleging she was unaware of the contamination until 2014. Cynthia died in 2016. Her Florida law wrongful death by negligence and trespass claims were untimely under Florida's four-year limitations period. With respect to claims under the Price-Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2), her parents cited the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, which tolls the statute of limitations until a plaintiff knows (or reasonably should have known) her injury was caused by a hazardous substance, or until the plaintiff reaches the age of majority.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit CERCLA’s discovery-tolling provision applies only to actions “brought under State law.” Actions under the Price-Anderson Act borrow from the state where the incident occurred, so Florida’s four-year statute of limitations governs. View "Santiago v. Raytheon Technologies Corp." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Corps, holding that the district court properly determined that it was reasonable for the Corps to conclude that environmental effects of phosphogypsum production and storage fell outside the scope of its National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review. The court held that the Corps otherwise complied with NEPA by issuing an area-wide environmental-impact statement, which served as the mine-specific impact statement for each of the four proposed mine sites, and following that up with a supplemental environmental assessment of the South Pasture Mine Extension, before issuing the Section 404 permit related to that mine in a record of decision.Finally, the court held that the Corps did not violate section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, which requires each agency to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before taking an "action" to ensure that such action was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or its habitat. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The EPA has discretion not to commence withdrawal proceedings under 40 C.F.R. 123.64(b) even if it finds that a state's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program has not always complied with the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA).The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the EPA's decision affirming its previous refusal to commence withdrawal proceedings against Alabama. In regard to the four alleged violations, the court held that the EPA reasonably construed the statutory and regulatory text. The court also held that the EPA's decision not to commence withdrawal proceedings in the face of these alleged violations was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law. View "Cahaba Riverkeeper v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The panel denied the petition for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc, affirming the panel's January 12, 2018 opinion affirming the district court. In the January opinion, the panel determined that no reasonable fact finder could conclude that the injuries of a killer whale held in captivity, Lolita, presented a "threat of serious harm" sufficient to trigger liability under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The opinion reflected the panel's determination that the law would be better served by announcing the "threat of serious harm" rule, without defining its contours, and allowing district courts the flexibility to apply that rule to future circumstances with which they are presented. The panel held that the January opinion aligned with Congress's intent in drafting the ESA: to prevent extinction. Finally, the panel rejected PETA's alternative argument that the panel's reading of the ESA conflicted with regulatory definitions. View "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. v. Miami Seaquarium" on Justia Law

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Conservationists filed suit under the Clean Water Act and Florida law, challenging the Corps' decisions about when and how to release water from certain locks along the Okeechobee Waterway. The district court dismissed the complaint based on the Corps' sovereign immunity. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(b) required the dismissal of this case regardless of whether the court agreed with the Water District's sequencing argument on cross-appeal or the Corps' sovereign immunity argument. The court need not reach those matters because the Water District was an indispensable party under Rule 19(b) and thus the action may not proceed without the Water District. View "Florida Wildlife Federation Inc. v. US Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit seeking to move or extend the Brick-Kiln Dock to improve its accessibility. Plaintiffs argued that the deed by which plaintiffs conveyed the island property to the government and reserved the right to continue to use the dock permitted them to relocate the dock. Alternatively, plaintiffs contend that the Park Service's denial of permission to relocate or extend the dock was arbitrary and capricious. The court affirmed the district court's determination that, under the plain language of the deed, plaintiffs have no reserved right to unilaterally relocate or extend the dock. The court also concluded that the Park Service's denial of permission to relocate or extend the Dock was not arbitrary or capricious and did not exceed its authority. In this case, the Wilderness Act, 16 U.S.C. 1131(a), foreclosed relocation of the Dock, and the Park Service was authorized to regulate the marshlands. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "High Point, LLLP v. National Park Service" on Justia Law

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This case involves the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and City's efforts to build a new bridge across the North Fork St. Lucie River. Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, 49 U.S.C. 303(c), allows the Secretary of Transportation to approve projects that use section 4(f) lands only if the agency first determines that there is no feasible and prudent alternative to using that land. Plaintiff filed suit claiming that the FHWA abused its discretion in not selecting their proffered alternative that, when built with a spliced-beam construction, would avoid all use of section 4(f) lands. The FHWA concluded that the spliced-beam construction would be "imprudent" because it would cause significantly greater harm to non–section 4(f) wetland areas, as well as "severe social impacts." The court concluded that FHWA was thorough and careful in its analysis and thoughtful in its determination, and the court could discern neither an arbitrary or capricious action nor an abuse of discretion. In this case, the FHWA made its calculus carefully, giving thoughtful consideration to a wide variety of factors, and it worked with many agencies, even those that once opposed the project, to develop remediation plans that mitigate harms to the affected areas. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County v. U.S. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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In 1988, NPS acquired additional land to the the Big Cypress National Preserve. NPCA filed suit contending that the the NPS's General Management Plan's (GMP) inclusion of Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) trails for the Addition Lands was arbitrary, capricious, and in violation of the Wilderness Act, 16 U.S.C. 1131-1136, and Organic Act. The district court concluded that the NPS did not violate the Wilderness Act, finding that the 2010 reassessment of the wilderness eligibility determination was the result of reasoned decision-making rather than political manipulation; with respect to the 1/2-mile buffer, the NPS’s rational for excluding those lands from wilderness eligibility was supported by the record; NPS did not violate the Organic Act by failing to promote conservation because the record supported the NPS’s conclusion that the existing ORV trail network retained the imprint of human engineering and would continue to handle ORV traffic from private property owners accessing their property; and the NPS’s Biological Evaluation and the FWS’s Biological Opinion regarding the eastern indigo snake and Florida panther were supported by the record. NPCA appealed. The court rejected NPCA's claims and concluded that substantial evidence supports the district court's conclusions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "National Parks Conservation Ass'n v. US DOI" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the EPA and the Corps' joint promulgation of the Clean Water Rule, which defines the term “Waters of the United States” for purposes of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq. The district court subsequently denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding that 33 U.S.C. 1369(b)(1) gives courts of appeals exclusive original jurisdiction over challenges to the rule. Plaintiffs appealed the denial of preliminary injunctive relief. Plaintiffs in this case also filed in this court what they termed a “protective” petition for direct review of their Clean Water Rule challenge. The court concluded that, because of the Sixth Circuit’s nationwide stay of the Clean Water Rule, those opposing the rule are not being harmed by it in the interim. And, if the Sixth Circuit holds that the rule is invalid, that will end the matter, subject (as all panel decisions are) to the possibility of en banc and certiorari review. In any event, the decision of that court will likely narrow and refine, if not render moot, at least some of the issues this court asked the parties to brief. For all of these reasons, the court exercised its discretion to stay its hand in this case pending a decision of the Sixth Circuit or further developments. Accordingly, the court held the appeal in abeyance and ordered the district court to stay all further proceedings. View "State of Georgia v. McCarthey" on Justia Law

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The County petitioned for review of the Board's ruling reversing the ALJ's findings and conclusions in a proceeding under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, 33 U.S.C. 1367. The parties agreed that the Board incorrectly applied a de novo rather than substantial-evidence standard to the ALJ's findings. The court denied the petition for review, concluding that reviewing for substantial evidence would not have changed the result because the Board reversed the ALJ on matters of law, not fact. View "DeKalb Cnty. v. U.S. Dept. of Labor" on Justia Law