Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
Self v. B P X Operating
Louisiana oil and gas law authorizes the state Commissioner of Conservation to combine separate tracts of land and appoint a unit operator to extract the minerals. Plaintiffs own unleased mineral interests in Louisiana that are part of a forced drilling unit. BPX is the operator. Plaintiffs alleged on behalf of themselves and a named class that BPX has been improperly deducting post-production costs from their pro rata share of production and that this practice is improper per se. The district court granted BPX’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ per se claims, holding that the quasi-contractual doctrine of negotiorum gestio provides a mechanism for BPX to properly deduct postproduction costs. Plaintiffs filed this action as purported representatives of a named class of unleased mineral owners whose interests are situated within forced drilling units formed by the Louisiana Office of Conservation and operated by BPX. BPX removed this action to the district court based on both diversity and federal question jurisdiction. BPX sought dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ primary claim. The district court granted BPX’s motion to dismiss. The district court certified its ruling for interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1292(b).The Fifth Circuit wrote that no controlling Louisiana case resolves the parties’ issue. Accordingly, the court certified the following determinative question of law to the Louisiana Supreme Court: 1) Does La. Civ. Code art. 2292 applies to unit operators selling production in accordance with La. R.S. 30:10(A)(3)? View "Self v. B P X Operating" on Justia Law
In Re Jefferson Parish
Several collections of residents near Jefferson Parish Landfill sued the landfill’s owner (Jefferson Parish) and its operators (four companies). This mandamus action arises out of the Eastern District of Louisiana’s case management of two of those lawsuits: the Ictech-Bendeck class action and the Addison mass action. The Ictech-Bendeck class action plaintiffs seek damages on a state-law nuisance theory under Louisiana Civil Code articles 667, 668, and 669. The Addison mass action plaintiffs seek damages from the same defendants, although they plead claims for both nuisance and negligence. The district court granted in part and denied in part Petitioners’ motion for summary judgment against some of the Addison plaintiffs. Then on April 17 the district court adopted a new case management order drafted by the parties that scheduled a September 2023 trial for several of the Addison plaintiffs. The Fifth Circuit denied Petitioners' petition for mandamus relief. The court explained that mandamus is an extraordinary form of relief saved for the rare case in which there has been a “usurpation of judicial power” or a “clear abuse of discretion.” The court explained that mandamus relief is not for testing novel legal theories. The court wrote that Petitioners’ theory is not merely new; it is also wrong. Rule 23 establishes a mechanism for plaintiffs to pursue their claims as a class. It does not cause the filing of a putative class action to universally estop all separate but related actions from proceeding to the merits until the class-certification process concludes in the putative class action, after years of motions practice. View "In Re Jefferson Parish" on Justia Law
Barajas v. Satvia L.A. County Water Dist.
The Sativa Water District was created in 1938 under the County Water District Law to provide potable drinking water to the residents living in a neighborhood in the unincorporated community of Willowbrook and parts of the City of Compton within Los Angeles County. On July 9, 2018, four named individuals— (collectively, Plaintiffs)—filed a putative class action lawsuit against the Sativa Water District. The Sativa Water District moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ entire lawsuit. Following a briefing, a hearing, and supplemental briefing, the trial court granted the motion. Plaintiffs asserted that the trial court erred in (1) granting the Sativa Water District’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, (2) denying Plaintiffs’ motion to vacate the order dismissing the County as a defendant, and (3) decertifying their class as to the nuisance claim. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that the Reorganization Act grants a LAFCO discretion whether to permit a district to wind up its own affairs or whether instead to appoint a successor agency responsible for doing so. Because the LAFCO, in this case, took the latter route, Plaintiffs’ class action lawsuit against the dissolved district must be dismissed. The court further concluded that the trial court’s dismissal of the successor agency was proper because Legislature expressly granted civil immunity to that agency. View "Barajas v. Satvia L.A. County Water Dist." on Justia Law
Abbott v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.
In the 1950s, DuPont began discharging C-8—a “forever” chemical that accumulates in the human body and the environment—into the Ohio River, landfills, and the air surrounding its West Virginia plant. By the 1960s, DuPont learned that C-8 is toxic to animals and, by the 1980s, that it is potentially a human carcinogen. DuPont’s discharges increased until 2000. Evidence subsequently confirmed that C-8 caused several diseases among those drinking the contaminated water. In a class action lawsuit, DuPont promised to treat the affected water and to fund a scientific process concerning the impact of C-8 exposure. A panel of scientists conducted an approximately seven-year epidemiological study of the blood samples and medical records of more than 69,000 affected community members, while the litigation was paused. The settlement limited the claims that could be brought against DuPont based on the study’s determination of which diseases prevalent in the communities were likely linked to C-8 exposure. The resulting cases were consolidated in multidistrict litigation. After two bellwether trials and a post-bellwether trial reached verdicts against DuPont, the parties settled the remaining cases.More class members filed suit when they became sick or discovered the connection between their diseases and C-8. In this case, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the application of collateral estoppel to specific issues that were unanimously resolved in the three prior jury trials, the exclusion of certain evidence based on the initial settlement agreement, and rejection of DuPont’s statute-of-limitations defense.. View "Abbott v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law
Baptiste v. Bethlehem Landfill Co.
The Baptistes filed suit on behalf of a class of homeowner-occupants and renters (about 8,400 households) claiming interference with the use and enjoyment of their homes and loss in property value caused by noxious odors and other air contaminants emanating from the 224-acre Bethlehem Landfill. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. While everyone in the community—including visitors, commuters, and residents—may suffer from having to breathe polluted air in public spaces, the Baptistes have identified cumulative harms that are unique to residents, such as the inability to use and enjoy their outdoor spaces. These injuries are above and beyond any injury to the public; the Baptistes sufficiently alleged a “particular damage” to sustain a private claim for public nuisance. They also stated a claim for private nuisance. Pennsylvania law does not reject a private nuisance claim on the ground that the property affected was too far from the source of the alleged nuisance. Nor does Pennsylvania law condition an individual’s right to recover private property damages on a nuisance theory on the size of the nuisance or the number of persons harmed, as opposed to the nature of the rights affected or the degree of the harm suffered. The question remains whether the Baptistes have sufficiently pleaded a cognizable injury to state an independent negligence claim. View "Baptiste v. Bethlehem Landfill Co." on Justia Law
Martin v. Behr Dayton Thermal Products, LLC
In 2008, plaintiffs filed a class action concerning 540 properties in Dayton’s McCook Field neighborhood, alleging that the groundwater is contaminated with carcinogenic volatile organic compounds, released by defendants’ automotive and dry cleaning facilities. The EPA designated the area as a Superfund site. Plaintiffs have access to municipal drinking water but the contaminated groundwater creates the risk of VOC vapor intrusion into buildings so that Plaintiffs may inhale carcinogenic and hazardous substances. A school was closed and demolished when vapor mitigation systems were unable to adequately contain the levels of harmful substances. After the suit was removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(2) and consolidated with related actions, Plaintiffs sought Rule 23(b)(3) liability-only class certification for five of their 11 causes of action—private nuisance, negligence, negligence per se, strict liability, and unjust enrichment. Alternatively, they requested Rule 23(c)(4) certification of seven common issues. The court determined that although the proposed classes satisfied Rule 23(a)’s prerequisites, Ohio law regarding injury-in-fact and causation meant that plaintiffs could not meet Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement and denied certification of the proposed liability-only classes. The court then employed the “broad view” and certified seven issues for class treatment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The certified classes satisfy requirements of predominance and superiority. Each issue may be resolved with common proof and individualized inquiries do not outweigh common questions. Class treatment of the certified issues will not resolve liability entirely, but will materially advance the litigation. View "Martin v. Behr Dayton Thermal Products, LLC" on Justia Law
Rivers v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Petitioner waived its challenge to the decision of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ) to issue a “permit by rule” to U.S. Oil Sands Inc. for a bitumen-extraction project. Petitioner, which appeared before the Supreme Court for a second time to challenge the permit, failed to argue that UDEQ’s Executive Director erred in concluding that Living Rivers v. U.S. Oil Sands, Inc., 344 P.3d 568 (Living Rivers I), barred its requests for agency action. The Supreme Court affirmed the executive Director’s decision on the ground that Petitioner failed adequately to challenge an alternative ground for the Executive Director’s decision. View "Rivers v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law
Halley v. Honeywell International Inc
The Third Circuit affirmed the approval of a settlement of an FRCP 23(b)(3) class action arising out of hexavalent chromium contamination in Jersey City, New Jersey. The class action was brought on behalf of property owners in several neighborhoods whose homes were allegedly contaminated by by-products disposed of at chromium chemical manufacturing plants, owned and operated by the predecessors of Honeywell and PPG. Plaintiffs asserted common law tort claims and civil conspiracy claims for depreciation of their property values due to the alleged contamination, but not claims for harm other than economic loss to property value, such as personal injury or medical monitoring claims. The district court certified a settlement-only class as to the claims against Honeywell and approved a $10,017,000 settlement fund, which included an award of costs and attorneys’ fees for plaintiffs’ counsel. Overruling an objection by a member of the Honeywell settlement class, the Third Circuit concluded that the class certification requirements of FRCP 23(a) and (b)(3) are satisfied, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in approving the settlement under FRCP 23(e) and the award of attorneys’ fees under FRCP 23(h). The court remanded for reconsideration of the award of costs under Rule 23(h). View "Halley v. Honeywell International Inc" on Justia Law
Merrick v. Diageo Americas Supply, Inc.
Diageo distills and ages whiskey in Louisville, resulting in tons of ethanol emissions. Ethanol vapor wafts onto nearby property where the ethanol combines with condensation to propagate whiskey fungus. Ethanol emissions are regulated under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401. Plaintiffs complained to the air pollution control district, which issued a Notice of Violation, finding that Diageo caused and allowed the emission of an air pollutant which crossed its property line causing an injury and nuisance to nearby neighborhoods and the public. Diageo disputed that its operations violated any district regulation. Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint, seeking damages for negligence, nuisance, and trespass, and an injunction. The district court concluded that state common law tort claims were not preempted by the Clean Air Act;” dismissed plaintiffs’ negligence claim on the ground that plaintiffs had not pled facts sufficient to establish that Diageo owed them a duty of care, or that Diageo had breached that duty; and declined to dismiss the remaining causes of action, concluding that plaintiffs had alleged facts sufficient to establish nuisance and trespass. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed, based on the Act’s text, the Act’s structure and history, and relevant Supreme Court precedents. View "Merrick v. Diageo Americas Supply, Inc." on Justia Law
Smith v. ConocoPhillips Pipe Line Co.
Phillips owns an underground petroleum pipeline, built in 1930. A 1963 report stated that 100 barrels of leaded gasoline had leaked beneath West Alton, Missouri, and not been recovered. The leak was repaired. In 2002 a West Alton resident noticed a petroleum odor in his home. He contacted Phillips, which investigated. West Alton has no municipal water. Testing on the owner’s well disclosed benzene, a gasoline additive and carcinogen, at three times allowable limits. Phillips purchased the property, and two nearby homes and, with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), established a remediation plan. In 2006 Phillips demolished the homes, removed 4000 cubic yards of soil, and set up wells to monitor for chemicals of concern (COCs). Phillips volunteered to provide precautionary bottled water to 50 residents near the site. Sampling of other wells had not shown COCs above allowable limits. MDNR requested that Phillips test the wells of each family receiving bottled water before ending its water supply program. Phillips chose instead to continue distributing bottled water. Most of the recipients are within 0.25 miles of the contamination site. In 2011 nearby landowners sued, alleging nuisance, on the theory that possible pockets of contamination still exist. The Eighth Circuit reversed class certification, noting the absence of evidence showing class members were commonly affected by contamination, View "Smith v. ConocoPhillips Pipe Line Co." on Justia Law