Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
Allen v. Boeing Co.
In 2013, Plaintiffs filed an action against the Boeing Company and Landau Associates (Landau) in a Washington state court alleging that from the 1960s to the present years Boeing released toxins into the groundwater around its facility in Auburn, Washington and that for over a decade Landau, Boeing’s environmental-remediation contractor, had been negligent in its investigation and remediation of the pollution. Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs asserted state law claims of negligence, nuisance, and trespass. Boeing removed the action to a federal district court based on diversity jurisdiction and the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). The district court remanded the case to state court, concluding (1) contrary to Boeing’s allegations, Landau was not fraudulently joined, and thus there was not complete diversity; and (2) Plaintiffs’ action came within the local single event exception to CAFA federal jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit vacated and remanded, holding (1) the district court correctly determined that Boeing failed to show that Landau was fraudulently joined; but (2) Plaintiffs’ action does not come within the local single event exception to CAFA, and therefore, the district court has federal jurisdiction under CAFA. Remanded. View "Allen v. Boeing Co." on Justia Law
Shell Oil Co. v. Parko
About 150 property owners in a village near the Mississippi River claim that defendants’ refinery leaked benzene and other contaminants into the groundwater. They sued, alleging nuisance and related torts. The district court certified the class. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The court first rejected an argument that most class members had suffered no injury. How many class members have a valid claim is determined after certification. Predominance of issues common to all class members, like other certification requirements, goes to the efficiency of a class action as an alternative to individual suits. In this case, the alleged contamination occurred over a 90‐year period and involved different levels of contamination, caused by different polluters. Not every class member has experienced the same diminution in property value even if everyone had the same level of contamination. Plaintiff’s hydrogeologist, intended to measure contamination by the benzene levels in the groundwater beneath the plaintiffs’ properties, even though their water does not come from groundwater, but from an uncontaminated aquifer. It cannot be assumed that a decline in the value of property in the village is the result of proximity to a refinery. The district judge did not explore any of these issues, but treated predominance as a pleading requirement. View "Shell Oil Co. v. Parko" on Justia Law
Bell v. Cheswick Generating Station, Genon Power Midwest, L.P.
Plaintiffs filed suit against GenOn, on behalf of a putative class of at least 1,500 individuals who own or inhabit residential property within one mile of GenOn’s 570-megawatt coal-fired electrical generation facility in Springdale, Pennsylvania. The complaint asserted state tort law claims, based on ash and contaminants settling on plaintiffs’ property. The district court dismissed, finding that because the plant was subject to comprehensive regulation under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401, it owed no extra duty to the members of the class under state tort law. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the plain language of the Clean Air Act and controlling Supreme Court precedent indicate that state common law actions are not preempted. View "Bell v. Cheswick Generating Station, Genon Power Midwest, L.P." on Justia Law
Ackerman v. ExxonMobil Corp.
This case concerned a class action filed against defendants for contamination of plaintiffs' properties by gasoline and a gasoline additive (the Koch action). Former Koch class members subsequently filed a new class action (the Ackerman action). On appeal, defendants challenged the district court's order abstaining from exercising jurisdiction under the Colorado River doctrine. The court held that 28 U.S.C. 1446(d) affected only the jurisdiction of the state court only with regard to the case actually removed to federal court; because Koch was not removed, the state court maintained jurisdiction over it, and the amendment to the complaint in that case was not void ab initio; and the district court was correct to consider the amended Koch complaint in determining whether the Koch and Ackerman actions were parallel, and the district court did not abuse its discretion when concluding that exceptional circumstances warranted abstention in favor of the pending Koch action. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Ackerman v. ExxonMobil Corp." on Justia Law
Abraham v. St Croix Renaissance Grp., LLLP
SCRG purchased a St. Croix alumina refinery in 2002. The plaintiffs (more than 500 individuals) alleged that for 30 years, the facility refined bauxite, creating mounds of the by-product, red mud. Hazardous materials, including chlorine, fluoride, TDS, aluminum, arsenic, coal dust ,and other particulates were buried in the red mud, outdoors, in open piles, as high as 120 feet and covering up to 190 acres. Friable asbestos was also present. The substances were dispersed by wind and erosion. According to the plaintiffs, SCRG purchased the site knowing about the contamination, did nothing to abate it, and allowed it to continue. The district court remanded to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, finding that the action did not qualify as a “mass action” under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1453(c)(1), because all the claims arise from an event at a single facility, with resulting injuries confined to the Virgin Islands. The Third Circuit affirmed. An event, under CAFA, encompasses a continuing tort, resulting in a regular or continuous release of hazardous chemicals, where no superseding occurrence or significant interruption breaks the chain of causation. Congress intended to allow state or territorial courts to adjudicate claims involving truly localized environmental torts with localized injuries. View "Abraham v. St Croix Renaissance Grp., LLLP" on Justia Law
OneBeacon Am. Ins. Co. v. Am. Motorists Ins. Co.
OneBeacon and AMICO were insurers of the B.F. Goodrich and, among others, were liable for environmental cleanup at the Goodrich plant in Calvert City, Kentucky. AMICO settled with Goodrich, but OneBeacon’s predecessor went to trial. A state court jury found for Goodrich, and OneBeacon was ordered to pay $42 million in compensatory damages and $12 million in attorney fees. The state court also denied OneBeacon's request for settlement credits to reflect amounts paid by other insurers, such as AMICO, through settlements with Goodrich. OneBeacon sought equitable contribution; AMICO removed to federal court. The district court granted AMICO summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Ohio policy favoring settlements provides that a settled policy is exhausted for purposes of equitable contribution; the court declined to address whether Ohio law permits interclass contribution actions or whether the jury finding of bad faith bars equitable relief. View "OneBeacon Am. Ins. Co. v. Am. Motorists Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Arabie v. CITGO Petroleum Corp.
As a consequence of a June 2006 storm, the stormwater drainage and storage system (including the wastewater treatment facility) at the Lake Charles refinery of Defendant CITGO Petroleum Company (CITGO), was filled beyond available capacity and overflowed, resulting in a major oil spill. Over 21 million gallons of waste, including 17 million gallons of contaminated wastewater and 4.2 million gallons of slop oil, escaped from the two existing wastewater storage tanks into an area around the tanks which was surrounded by levees or dikes. The oil spill, which was described at trial as "major" and "catastrophic," eventually contaminated over 100 miles of shoreline along the Calcasieu River, and required several months to clean up. Fourteen plaintiffs, employees of Ron Williams Construction (RWC) working at the Calcasieu Refining Company (CRC) south of the CITGO refinery, filed suit against CITGO and R&R Construction, Inc. (R&R) alleging various injuries due to their exposure to noxious gases emanating from the spill. CITGO and R&R stipulated that they were liable for the spill and agreed to pay plaintiffs for all their compensatory damages assessed to CITGO and R&R. After a two week bench trial, the district court ruled that plaintiffs had proved their injuries were caused by CITGO's admitted negligence in allowing the spill. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the district court's finding the spill caused plaintiffs' injuries was not an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court granted review of this case to determine whether the courts below erred as to the allocation of fault, in awarding damages for fear of future injury, and in awarding punitive damages. In sum, the Court held that Louisiana's conflict of laws statutes did not provide for the application of the punitive damages laws of Texas or Oklahoma under the facts of this case, that plaintiffs proved that their damages were caused by their exposure to toxic chemicals contained in the oil spill, that plaintiffs are entitled to damages for fear of contracting cancer, and that CITGO did not produce at the hearing on summary judgment factual support sufficient to establish that it would be able to satisfy its evidentiary burden of proof at trial. The Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Arabie v. CITGO Petroleum Corp." on Justia Law
Oak Grove Resources, LLC v. White
Oak Grove Resources, LLC, and Cliffs North American Coal, LLC (Oak Grove) appealed a trial court's order in favor of class Plaintiffs finding that Oak Grove failed to satisfy the requirements of a settlement agreement between the parties, and ordered the continued monitoring of air near Plaintiffs' properties for the presence of coal dust for one year. Plaintiffs sued Oak Grove in 1997 alleging that it operated a preparation plant in a manner that caused coal dust to become airborne and to migrate to their properties, where it settled, causing them to suffer both personal injury and property damage. In October 2002, the parties entered into a settlement agreement the 2002 settlement agreement provided for certain injunctive relief and the payment of attorney fees and expenses. The injunctive relief required Oak Grove to complete 14 specific remedial measures within 24 months of the execution of the 2002 settlement agreement. Oak Grove implemented the remedial measures at the Concord plant following the trial court's approval of the 2002 settlement agreement. However, Plaintiffs continued to complain that the Concord plant emitted coal dust onto their properties and that the remedial measures had not satisfactorily solved the problem. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that no objection was raised by Plaintiffs to the site locations until two months after testing began in July 2009. Furthermore, Plaintiffs' expert did not visit the air-monitoring sites until January 2010. The Court concluded that Plaintiffs inexcusably delayed in asserting their rights under a 2008 supplement and that Oak Grove would be unduly prejudiced if Plaintiffs were allowed to assert those rights. The Court reversed the trial court's award of injunctive relief, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Oak Grove Resources, LLC v. White" on Justia Law
Price v. Martin
The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this lawsuit to determine whether the lower courts correctly applied the standards for analyzing class action certification set forth in La. C.C.P. arts. 591, et seq. In February 2003, five individuals residing and owning property in Alexandria, Louisiana, in the vicinity of the Dura-Wood Treating Company, filed on their own behalf and as representatives of a class of persons who allegedly suffered damages as a result of operations at the wood-treating facility, a "Class Action Petition for Damages." The petition, which was amended several times, alleged that the Dura-Wood facility was primarily engaged in the production of creosote-treated railroad ties, and that significant quantities of creosote sludge were deposited into the canal and ponds. The appellate court ultimately found no reversible error in the district court’s judgment certifying the class, although it candidly acknowledged “a number of potential problems with the class as it had been defined." After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Supreme Court found the lower courts erred in concluding that common questions of law or fact existed, that questions of law or fact common to members of the class predominated over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action was superior to other available methods for a fair and efficient adjudication of this matter. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the district court which granted Plaintiffs' motion for class certification. View "Price v. Martin" on Justia Law
Gates v. Rohm & Haas Co.
Named plaintiffs are residents of a residential area of about 2000 people. Defendants, chemical companies, operated a facility one mile north of the area. Plaintiffs allege that defendants dumped wastewater into a lagoon that seeped into an aquifer where it degraded into vinyl chloride, a carcinogen. The district court denied certification of a class seeking medical monitoring for village residents exposed to airborne vinyl chloride between 1968 and 2002, and a liability-only issue class seeking compensation for property damage from the exposure. The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court acted within its discretion in finding plaintiffs would be unable to prove a concentration of vinyl chloride that would create a significant risk of contracting a serious latent disease for all class members. A single injunction or declaratory judgment could not provide relief to each member of the class, due to individual issues unrelated to the monetary nature of the claim. Each person's work, travel, and recreational habits may have affected their level of exposure. Certification of a liability-only issue class could unfairly impact defendants and absent class members.