Ninth Circuit Weighs In On Circuit Split Regarding CERCLA Contribution Claims After Settlement and The Statute of Limitation

Asarco, LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Company, 866 F.3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2017). In a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) contribution case, the Ninth Circuit addressed three issues of first impression for the circuit related to the ability to pursue contribution after settlement and the application of the statute of limitation. Specifically, the court looked at (1) whether a settlement agreement entered into under an authority other than CERCLA may give rise to a CERCLA contribution claim; (2) whether a “corrective” measure under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), qualifies as a “response” action under CERCLA; and (3) what it means for a party to “resolve its liability” in a settlement agreement. Id. at 1113. The Ninth Circuit concluded that a settlement under RCRA may give rise to a CERCLA contribution claim and that corrective measures under a RCRA decree may constitute response costs under CERCLA. Id. at 1113–14. The court found that the CERCLA contribution claim at issue was not barred by the statute of limitation because plaintiff Asarco, LLC (Asarco) did not “resolve its liability” under a 1998 RCRA consent decree, and, therefore, could not have brought its contribution action until a subsequent CERCLA consent decree was issued. Id. Continue Reading

Corps and EPA Push Out Effective Date of Disputed Clean Water Rule

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency published a rule postponing the effective date of the Clean Water Rule for two years, until February 6, 2020.

The Clean Water Rule defined the extent of jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. It was supposed to have become effective on August 28, 2015, but was immediately challenged in multiple lawsuits and was eventually stayed nationwide by the Sixth Circuit. Disputes on the merits were put on hold while the courts decided whether the cases should proceed in the district courts or in the appellate courts. Continue Reading

Real Estate Aspects of Tax Reform

On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the most extensive overhaul of the United States tax regime in over thirty years. The new tax laws will have a significant impact upon taxpayers in all income tax brackets, all businesses and every sector of the economy, including real estate. This alert provides a brief summary of some of the provisions that are likely to impact real estate developers and investors, both at the fund level and the property level, and provides some insight in terms of what real estate developers and investors should consider in their tax structuring going forward. Continue Reading

District Courts Have Jurisdiction Over Challenges to Clean Water Rule, Supreme Court Says

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the federal district courts can hear challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2015 Clean Water Rule, rejecting the federal government’s arguments that federal courts of appeal have exclusive jurisdiction over such claims. The Court’s ruling means that the Sixth Circuit will have to dissolve its nationwide injunction against the Clean Water Rule, which revised the definition of “waters of the United States” that are subject to the Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, suits in district courts can proceed, including a suit in the District of North Dakota, where the court granted an injunction against implementation of the Clean Water Rule in 13 states.

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WARNING: Prop 65 Has Changed – If Your Product Is Sold In California Or You Do Business In California, Pay Attention

What is Prop 65?

Prop 65 is a California law that requires California consumers receive warnings regarding the presence of chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. The law is highly technical, constantly evolving and actively enforced by the government and private enforcers. Continue Reading

Prop 65 Victory For Defendants – Defendants Are Entitled To Have Their Cases Heard In the County Where the Claim Arose

Summary

Prop 65 Plaintiffs routinely file most Prop 65 cases in Alameda County, presumably because they believe it is a plaintiff-friendly forum. However, the California Court of Appeal recently issued a victory for Prop 65 defendants, finding that Prop 65 matters may be transferred to the venue where the cause arose. Dow Agrosciences LLC v. Superior Court (2017 1st Dist.)16 Cal.App.5th 1067.[1] Continue Reading

Ninth Circuit Vacates Condition Registration for Nanosilver-containing Pesticide Due to Lack of Evidence that its Use is in The Public Interest

Natural Resources Defense Council v. E.P.A., __ F.3d ___, 2017 WL 2324714 (9th Cir. May 30, 2017). The Ninth Circuit Court has vacated the conditional registration of the pesticide NSPWL30SS (“NSPW”)—an antimicrobial materials preservative that uses nanosilver as its active ingredient—on the grounds that the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) failed to provide substantial evidence that the use of the ingredient was in the public interest. Id. at *2. Continue Reading

Ninth Circuit Affirms Forest Service’s Authority to “Choose Jobs Over Wolves”

In re Big Thorne Project and 2008 Tongass Forest Plan, __ F.3d __, 2017 WL 2233755 (9th Cir. May 23, 2017). Plaintiffs, environmental conservation and activist organizations, brought suit against the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Agriculture (collectively, “Forest Service”) on behalf of individuals who fish, hunt, and “enjoy” Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Id. at *3. Plaintiffs alleged that the Forest Service violated the National Forest Management Act (the “Act”) by approving either the 2008 Tongass Forest Plan or the Big Thorne logging project. Id. at *2. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the Forest Service, holding that the Forest Service’s approval was neither arbitrary nor capricious because the Act expressly grants the Forest Service discretion to balance competing interests, and the Forest Service reached its determination after a thorough analysis rationally supported by the evidence. Id. at *5. Continue Reading

Oklahoma Court Dismisses Fracking Earthquake Case Due to Court’s Lack of Scientific Expertise

Sierra Club v. Chesapeake Operating LLC et al., __ F. Supp. 3d ___, 2017 WL 1287546 (W.D. Okla. 2017). The Sierra Club filed a citizen suit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”) against Chesapeake Operating LLC, Devon Energy Production Co. LP, Sandridge Exploration and Production LLC, and New Dominion LLC (collectively, “defendants”), alleging that the defendants’ fracking activities increased the number and severity of earthquakes in Oklahoma. Id. at *1. The Sierra Club sought declaratory and injunctive relief from the court requiring the defendants to reduce their wastewater disposal volume, reinforce structures vulnerable to earthquakes, and establish an earthquake monitoring center. Id. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, contending that the court should decline to exercise jurisdiction under the Burford abstention and primary jurisdiction doctrines because the  (“OCC”) has implemented new regulations and water disposal directives in response to increased seismic activity. Id. at *2. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, deferring to the OCC expertise on both grounds. Id. at *10. Continue Reading

Faceoff with Federal Government Possibly Looming Following California Supreme Court CEQA Ruling; Cal High Speed Rail Project Also Vulnerable

In July 2017, the California Supreme Court determined the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (49 U.S.C. § 10101 et seq.) (“ICCTA”) does not preempt the application of the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 (Pub. Res. Code § 21000 et seq.) (“CEQA”), a state statute, to a state public entity railroad project on a rail line owned by that same entity, the North Coast Rail Authority (“NCRA”). Friends of the Eel River resolves a split among the California Courts of Appeal.[1] However, the decision may conflict with federal precedent and could eventually reach the Supreme Court. As the majority opinion and the dissent both emphasize, the decision creates a direct conflict with the federal Surface Transportation Board’s (“STB”) determination that ICCTA preempts any application of CEQA to California’s state-owned, high-speed rail project.[2] Thus, the dispute over CEQA’s application to High-Speed Rail may need to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. Additionally, Friends of the Eel River introduces more legal complications for the planned $64 billion bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, as it appears to require that project to comply with CEQA, which could lead to additional litigation. Continue Reading

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