Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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Conecuh Timber, Inc., Ayres Forestry, Inc., BAR Forest Products, LLC, Dry Creek Loggers, Inc., Pea River Timber Company, Inc., Pineville Timber Co., LLC, and THE Timber Company, LLC ("TTC") (collectively referred to as "the wood dealers"), sued Alabama River Group, Inc. ("ARG"), and ARG's chairman and chief executive officer George Landegger, asserting various claims arising from transactions between the wood dealers and ARG's predecessors; the transactions were affected by a short-lived subsidy program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency ("the FSA") known as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program ("BCAP"). Following a jury trial, a judgment was entered against the ARG defendants awarding the wood dealers $1,092,692.71 in compensatory damages and $7,000,000 in punitive damages. The trial court reduced the punitive-damages award by virtue of the statutory cap in section 6- 11-21, Ala. Code 1975, resulting in a total judgment of $6,395,489.37. The ARG defendants filed post-trial motions, which, after a hearing, the trial court denied. The ARG defendants appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment as to liability and compensatory damages. The Court affirmed the punitive damages awarded to Dry Creek Loggers, Inc., and to Conecuh Timber, Inc. With respect to the punitive-damages awards of the remaining wood dealers, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed on the condition that those wood dealers file a remittitur of the punitive-damages awards to a 3:1 ratio to the Supreme Court. Should any wood dealer fail to timely file the respective remittitur, the judgment as to that wood dealer would be reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial. View "Alabama River Group, Inc. v. Conecuh Timber, Inc. et al" on Justia Law

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Charles Breland, Jr., and Breland Corporation (collectively, "Breland") appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the City of Fairhope in Breland's declaratory action based on alleged negligent conduct by Fairhope in relation to real property owned by Breland. In 2000, Breland filed applications for permits and certifications from the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management ("ADEM") in order to fill approximately 10.5 acres of wetlands on the property. Fairhope opposed the fill project. Breland purchased the mitigation credits required by the Corps permit, and hired engineers and consultants for the project sometime before he began actual filling activity. Eight years later, actual work on the fill project began, but the City issued a stop-work order that halted operations. Because his Corps permit would expire in late 2008, Breland sued Fairhope for declaratory relief and an injunction against the effects of multiple City ordinances passed in attempts to stop Breland's work. Fairhope moved to dismiss the complaint. Charles Breland testified that he dismissed his lawsuit against Fairhope when both his Corps permit had been extended (to 2013), and that "there [were] conversations that the city [initiated] about buying the property." According to Breland, by late 2011, he got the impression that Fairhope had been negotiating with him to buy the remainder of the property under false pretenses and that Fairhope actually was trying to delay Breland from resuming the fill project until the Corps permit expired. In early 2013, Breland sued again seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Fairhope's attempts to stop the fill project. The trial court dismissed Breland's case on statute of limitations grounds. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that each time Fairhope enforced its ordinances to stop Breland from filling activity on his property, Fairhope committed a new act that served as a basis for a new claim. Fairhope's last stop-work order was issued in November 2011; Breland filed this action on August 7, 2013. Accordingly, the two-year statute of limitations did not bar a claim for damages stemming from the 2011 stop-work order. View "Breland v. City of Fairhope" on Justia Law

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Regions Bank appealed a final judgment dismissing its action against BP P.L.C., BP Corporation North America, Inc., and BP America Inc. (collectively, "BP"). In 2010, an explosion and fire occurred aboard the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore-drilling rig, located off the coast of Louisiana. The incident led to a massive discharge of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, which, in turn, spawned an expansive clean-up and response operation by BP and various governmental agencies. Regions owned coastal real property located in Baldwin County, Alabama. Regions filed this trespass action against BP in Alabama Circuit Court, alleging BP occupied Regions' property, without authorization, for its spill-response operation; that BP moved equipment and structures onto the property without permission; and that BP erected fences and barriers on the property, again, without permission. Regions further alleged that BP stored hazardous materials and waste on the property and that those hazardous materials and waste damaged the property. BP filed a Rule 12(c), Ala. R. Civ. P., "motion to dismiss" Regions' trespass action on the ground that it was subject to the class-action settlement approved in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) and, therefore, that dismissal was warranted on the basis of the doctrine of res judicata. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found "clear and unequivocal" exceptions to the MDL economic-and-property-damage-settlement class, and concluded that Regions was not a member of the settlement class. Therefore, its trespass claim was not adjudicated as part of the MDL class-action settlement. Accordingly, the Court reversed the circuit court for dismissing Regions' action on the ground of res judicata. View "Regions Bank v. BP P.L.C. et al." on Justia Law

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Alabama Rivers Alliance and Friends of Hurricane Creek (collectively, "ARA") petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Civil Appeals' decision reversing the trial court's decision to dismiss an appeal by Tuscaloosa Resources, Inc. ("TRI") of a decision of the Environmental Management Commission. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management ("ADEM") oversees the Commission. The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider whether the Court of Civil Appeals' decision conflicted with its decision in "Price v. South Central Bell," (313 So. 2d 184 (1975)), and the Court of Civil Appeals' decision in "Personnel Board of Jefferson County v. Bailey," (475 So. 2d 863 (Ala. Civ. App. 1985)). Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Civil Appeals' decision in this case conflicted with "Price" and "Bailey," and accordingly reversed its judgment. View "Tuscaloosa Resources, Inc. v. Alabama Department of Enviromental Management" on Justia Law

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The Alabama Department of Transportation ("ALDOT") and its director, John Cooper, petitioned for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss all claims filed against them by Asphalt Contractors, Inc. ("ACI"). Trichloroethylene ('TCE') and other chemicals were used by ALDOT since the early 1970s. TCE was used extensively by ALDOT as a degreaser and/or cleaning agent and/or as a solvent. TCE is now contained in shallow groundwater in North Montgomery. Since at least April 2009, ALDOT has pumped groundwater into a Dewatering Pond and from there onto a Transfer Pond and then to the South Pond. A portion of the South Pond and wetland area used in ALDOT's remedial efforts is being discharged onto ACI's property. In 2010, ACI demanded that ALDOT immediately cease all dumping of contaminated water on ACI's property. However, the dumping of TCE-laden water onto ACI's property continued to the date of ACI filing its lawsuit. The complaint asserted trespass to realty and inverse condemnation and made claims for injunctive relief. ACI requested damages for the full fair-market value of its property, consequential and incidental damages, compensatory damages, punitive and exemplary damages, expenses, costs, interest, and attorney fees. ALDOT and Cooper filed a motion to dismiss the complaint arguing qualified immunity. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred in denying the motion to dismiss ALDOT as a party to this action. Conversely, the trial court did not err in denying the motion to dismiss as to ACI's inverse-condemnation claim against Cooper in his official capacity. Further, the trial court properly refused to dismiss ACI's claim for injunctive relief against Cooper. Accordingly, the Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus in part and denied it in part. View "Asphalt Contractors, Inc. v. Alabama Dept. of Transportation " on Justia Law

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Southern Natural Gas Company (Sonat) sued Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's London and Certain London Marketing Insurance Companies (Phase III), alleging breach of numerous umbrella and excess liability policies. Sonat contended the insurance companies failed to pay certain environmental-remediation costs. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurers based on prior trials in Phases I and II of the case; Sonat appealed, and the insurers cross-appealed Phase III's outcome. Finding no abuse of the trial court's discretion, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London v. Southern Natural Gas Company " on Justia Law

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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

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Novus Utilities, Inc. sought a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court to direct the Cullman Circuit Court to dismiss negligence and private-nuisance claims against it as time-barred. Eleven property owners residing in Cullman County sued Defendants the Hanceville Water Works & Sewer Board and Southwest Water Company, alleging that the defendants had allowed approximately two million gallons of untreated raw sewage from the sewage-treatment facility operated by the Board to be discharged into waterways in Cullman County. They alleged that on January 21, 30, and 31, 2008, the sewage treatment facility released the untreated raw sewage, and that release created a health hazard and damaged and devalued their property. Novus was added as a defendant to the suit as a subsidiary of Southwest. Novus moved to dismiss claims against it. After careful consideration, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court was correct in denying Novus' motion to dismiss, and denied its petition for a writ of mandamus to quash the trial court's judgment. View "Roberts v. Hanceville Water Works & Sewer Board" on Justia Law

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Defendants/Counterclaim Plaintiffs Charles Stephens and Stephens Properties, Inc. appealed a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of Fines Recycling, Inc. and its shareholders on claims stemming from a dispute over a commercial lease. Fines operated an scrap metal recycling business on Stephens' property. The State sent Fines a notice that it was illegally operating a solid waste dump on the property, and demanded the company cease operations until the waste was cleaned up. The shareholders pledged their stock to Stephens Properties as security for Fines' obligation to clean up the property. Following the completion of the cleanup, Stephens allegedly failed to return the stock certificates pledged by the Fines shareholders. The shareholders sued for the stocks' return; Stephens responded that the stock was subsequently used as a setoff for payment of back rent and other expenses relating to the cleanup. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the trial court purported to certify its judgment as final, but that there were still pending counterclaims active in the case. The Court concluded that "the judgment on the jury verdict was not a final judgment, and, because of the nature of the pending issues, could not be transformed into a final judgment by a [final] certification." The Court reversed the trial court's certification and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Stephens v. Fines Recycling, Inc." on Justia Law