Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
City of Jacksonville v. Jacksonville Hospitality Holdings, L.P., et al
After eight years of litigation involving ten different parties, Continental Holdings, Inc. (Continental) appealed the district court’s denial of its November 2015 motion to voluntarily dismiss Houston Pipe Line Company, L.P. and HPL GP, LLC (collectively, Houston) from the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). Continental argues that we should reverse the district court’s Rule 41(a)(2) decision and vacate all of the subsequent orders governing its dispute with Houston. The Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal. The court explained that over the course of this litigation, many parties filed motions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) in an attempt to voluntarily dismiss their claims against another party. For each motion, fewer than all parties involved in the litigation provided a signature. Yet, Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) only permits a plaintiff to dismiss an action without a court order by filing “a stipulation of dismissal signed by all parties who have appeared. The court explained that because multiple motions made under this Rule were not signed by all parties who appeared in the lawsuit, they were ineffective, and the claims they purported to dismiss remain pending before the district court. Consequently, there has not been a final judgment below, and the court explained that it lacks jurisdiction to consider the merits of this appeal. View "City of Jacksonville v. Jacksonville Hospitality Holdings, L.P., et al" on Justia Law
South River Watershed Alliance, et al. v. DeKalb County, Georgia
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (“GDNR”) sued DeKalb County for violating the Clean Water Act (“CWA”). To resolve this suit, the parties agreed to a consent decree in 2011. Eight years later, South River Watershed Alliance, Inc. (“South River”) and J.E. sued DeKalb County for failing to follow the decree and violating the CWA. The CWA authorizes citizen suits for enforcement purposes, but such suits are not allowed when an “administrator or State has commenced and is diligently prosecuting a civil or criminal action . . . to require compliance with the standard, limitation, or order.” Thus, this case turned on whether the 2011 consent decree—along with the ongoing efforts of the EPA and GDNR to require compliance—constitutes diligent prosecution. The district court determined that South River’s suit was barred by the diligent prosecution bar. On appeal, South River argued for the opposite result and requests injunctive relief to ensure DeKalb County’s compliance. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that South River wants the current consent decree discarded in favor of a more muscular alternative. The fact that South River disagrees with the prosecution strategy undertaken by the EPA and GDNR, however, is not enough to prove that the EPA and GDNR have failed to diligently prosecute DeKalb County’s CWA violations. To the contrary, the record shows that the EPA and GDNR have been diligent, which means that South River’s suit is barred under 33 U.S.C. Section 1365(b)(1)(B). View "South River Watershed Alliance, et al. v. DeKalb County, Georgia" on Justia Law
RMS of Georgia, LLC v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, et al.
Under the Clean Air Act, Congress gave the Courts of Appeals jurisdiction to hear petitions for review of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions. But it mandated that petitions for review of “nationally applicable” actions be heard in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.Here, Petitioner challenges the EPA’s allocation of permits to consume hydrofluorocarbons—a type of chemical refrigerant—under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act. Specifically, RMS argues that it received fewer permits than it was entitled to because the EPA improperly allocated some historic HFC usage to RMS’s competitors.Finding that the EPA’s action was nationally applicable, the Eleventh Circuit transferred the petition to the D.C. Circuit. The court reasoned that the Allocation Notice at issue allocated permits nationwide and was not restricted in geographic scope; therefore, it was nationally applicable. View "RMS of Georgia, LLC v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, et al." on Justia Law
USA v. F.E.B. Corp.
After Wisteria Island’s birth, Congress ceded title to all lands within three miles of the United States’s coast to the states, except for lands that were (1) “built up,” “filled in,” “or otherwise reclaimed” (2) by the United States (3) for the United States’s use. We must determine whether Wisteria Island satisfies this exception. Only the third requirement is at issue in this appeal: whether the United States created Wisteria Island for its “use.” Plaintiff-Counterdefendant-Appellee United States says that it created Wisteria Island to store dredged soil. Defendant-Counterclaimant-Appellant F.E.B., which claims to own the island, rejects the United States’s assertion that it built Wisteria Island for its “use.” According to F.E.B., the island arose simply as a result of the United States’s discarding of the soil it dredged from the channel. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the United States that, if it created Wisteria Island as a place to store dredged soil, then the United States built up or filled in Wisteria Island for the United States’s use. But on this record, the court found a genuine issue of material fact exists as to why the United States created the island. So after a thorough review of the record and with the benefit of oral argument, the court affirmed in part and vacate in part the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the United States and denial of summary judgment to F.E.B., and remanded this case for a factual determination of why the United States created Wisteria Island. View "USA v. F.E.B. Corp." on Justia Law
John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company
Plaintiff regularly used Roundup on his lawn for about 30 years until 2016. Around 2016, Plaintiff was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma, which he believes was linked to the compound glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in Roundup. Plaintiff filed suit against Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup. In his four-count complaint, Plaintiff alleged strict liability for a design defect under Georgia law (Count I); strict liability for failure to warn under Georgia law Count II); negligence under Georgia law (Count III); and breach of implied warranties under Georgia law (Count IV). On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit was tasked with deciding whether the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiff’s failure to warn claim was preempted under Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Ac (FIFRA) because the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) had classified glyphosate as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans and approved the Roundup label. The Eleventh Circuit concluded it did and reversed the district court’s ruling. The court held that Plaintiff’s Georgia failure to warn claim is not preempted by the federal requirements under the FIFRA or the EPA actions pursuant to it. View "John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company" on Justia Law
City of North Miami v. FAA, et al.
Petitioners, a group comprised of municipalities, individuals, and a nonprofit organization all based in South Florida, filed this petition for review, claiming that the FAA violated the National Environmental Protection Act (“NEPA”), the Clean Air Act, the Department of Transportation Act, and the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process Clause. Among other things, Petitioners say the FAA’s Purpose and Need Statement was seriously deficient in violation of NEPA; its Cumulative Impact Assessment was improper and violated NEPA. The Eleventh Circuit denied the petitions for review concluding that none of the Petitioners’ claims have merit. The court held that the FAA scrupulously adhered to the requirements of the relevant statutes and afforded the public numerous opportunities to comment on the proposed changes. The court explained that the FAA engaged in an exhaustive study of the South-Central Florida Metroplex Project’s impact on the environment and noise levels in the affected area, and it found no significant impact. It also provided ample opportunity for the various stakeholders to learn about and comment on the project and complied with all procedural requirements. View "City of North Miami v. FAA, et al." on Justia Law
John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company
Plaintiff regularly used Roundup on his lawn for about 30 years. Plaintiff was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma, which he believes was linked to the main chemical ingredient in Roundup. Plaintiff filed against Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup®. In his four-count complaint, he alleged strict liability for a design defect under Georgia law (Count I); strict liability for failure to warn under Georgia law (Count II); negligence under Georgia law (Count III); and breach of implied warranties under Georgia law (Count IV). The district court granted Defendant’s motion, thereby eliminating Counts I and III from the Complaint. Plaintiff timely appealed the district court’s judgment on the pleadings as to Count II. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded. The court held that Plaintiff’s failure to warn claim is not preempted by the federal requirements under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) or the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) actions pursuant to it. The court explained that sometimes IFRA or the EPA’s actions pursuant to FIFRA may preempt state law. But only federal action with the force of law has the capacity to preempt state law. Here, the problem for Monsanto is that the EPA’s registration process is not sufficiently formal to carry with it the force of law under Mead. Further, Monsanto cannot wave the “formality” wand on EPA actions to accomplish compliance with the Mead standard. None of them are the product of “notice-and-comment rulemaking” or “formal adjudication.” Nor do the EPA letters Monsanto points to “bespeak the legislative type of activity that would naturally bind” Monsanto. View "John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company" on Justia Law
U.S. Department of Labor v. Tampa Electric Company
The Eleventh Circuit was tasked with determining whether the Tampa Electric Company violated OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (“HAZWOPER”) standard when employees at one of its power plants responded to an ammonia release without donning certain protective gear. The case arose when one of the underground pipes became over-pressurized, and, as it was designed to do, the system automatically diverted ammonia from that pipe to the sump. About 45 minutes after the ammonia began to vent, a security guard heard the alarm sounding at the skid and smelled ammonia. He began having trouble breathing and reported the leak. Once notified, control-room personnel dispatched “rovers”—specially trained response employees—to manage the ammonia release Because the rovers arrived at the skid without a “self-contained breathing apparatus[es],” OSHA fined Tampa Electric $9,054 under 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.120(q)(3)(iv). Tampa Electric appealed the citation. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (“Commission”) held that Tampa Electric’s response to the ammonia release wasn’t an “emergency response” within the meaning of the HAZWOPER standard and, therefore, that the company hadn’t violated that standard. The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition for review and affirmed the order of the Commission. The court held that the release here was controlled— or, in the words of the regulation, that it wasn’t “uncontrolled.” Because the response to it wasn’t an “emergency response,” the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply to the rovers’ conduct. And because the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply, Tampa Electric didn’t violate it. View "U.S. Department of Labor v. Tampa Electric Company" on Justia Law
The Glynn Environmental Coalition, Inc. v. Sea Island Acquisition, LLC
The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's order dismissing, based on lack of standing, plaintiffs' action alleging that Sea Island did not comply with the Clean Water Act’s permitting process. The court concluded that Plaintiff Fraser adequately alleged a concrete injury to her aesthetic interest in the wetland and therefore the court need not address plaintiffs' remaining arguments. In this case, Fraser adequately alleged that she suffered an injury to her aesthetic interests in the wetland because she has viewed the wetland, derived aesthetic pleasure from its natural habitat and vegetation, and now derives less pleasure from the unnatural grasses and lawn placed on the wetland. Therefore, Fraser's allegations are sufficient to establish an injury in fact at this stage, and the district court erred in concluding otherwise. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "The Glynn Environmental Coalition, Inc. v. Sea Island Acquisition, LLC" on Justia Law
Savage Services Corp. v. United States
Enacted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), creates a comprehensive remedial scheme that governs—and apportions liability for—oil-removal costs. OPA holds oil spillers strictly liable upfront for oil-removal expenses and allows them, if they meet certain requirements, to avail themselves of one of three liability defenses and to seek contribution from other culpable parties. The M/V SAVAGE VOYAGER was transporting oil through a Mississippi waterway when an accident at a boat lift— operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—caused a rupture in the SAVAGE VOYAGER’s hull, through which thousands of gallons of oil poured into the river.The owners of the vessel sued the United States, not under the OPA, but under the common-law admiralty regime. They cited the Suits in Admiralty Act (SAA), a 1920 law by which Congress generally waived sovereign immunity for most admiralty claims. The interplay between the OPA and the SAA was an issue of first impression in the federal courts. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the vessel owner’s claims for removal costs. OPA authorizes no claim against the government for oil-removal damages and OPA’s comprehensive remedial scheme displaced the SAA’s more general sovereign-immunity waiver. View "Savage Services Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law