Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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Teddy and Melanie Scott filed a lawsuit against Dyno Nobel, Inc., alleging that Teddy suffered serious injuries from exposure to a toxic gas cloud negligently emitted from Dyno’s nitric acid plant in Louisiana, Missouri. The incident occurred on March 20, 2015, when an equipment failure during a startup led to the release of nitrogen oxide gas, which enveloped Teddy while he was working at a nearby plant. Teddy experienced immediate physical symptoms and has since suffered from ongoing health issues, including irritable larynx syndrome, headaches, and back pain. Melanie claimed loss of consortium due to Teddy’s injuries.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri initially granted summary judgment in favor of Dyno, concluding that Dyno owed no duty of care to Teddy. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed this decision, finding that the issue of foreseeability, which determines duty, should be decided by a jury. On remand, a jury trial resulted in a verdict for the Scotts, awarding Teddy $13,750,000 in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages, and Melanie $3 million in compensatory damages. Dyno’s post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial were denied.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the district court’s judgment in part. The appellate court found that the jury had sufficient evidence to determine that Dyno’s actions created a foreseeable risk of harm and that Dyno breached its duty of care. However, the court reversed the award of punitive damages, concluding that the Scotts did not provide clear and convincing evidence that Dyno acted with a culpable mental state necessary for punitive damages under Missouri law. The case was remanded for entry of an amended judgment omitting the punitive damages award. View "Scott v. Dyno Nobel, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation (MHA), an Indian nation of three affiliated tribes, appealed the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approval of eight applications for oil drilling by the Slawson Exploration Company, Inc. next to Lake Sakakawea, MHA's sole source of drinking water. MHA challenged the approvals under the Administrative Procedure Act, arguing that BLM's approval of the project was arbitrary and capricious due to an insufficient record and by precluding MHA from further developing the record about the threat the project posed to MHA's health and welfare.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to BLM and Slawson, dismissing the case with prejudice. The court found that BLM had engaged in reasoned decision-making and had evaluated all relevant factors. It noted that the agency placed the responsibility on Slawson to comply with tribal law without impeding MHA's ability as a sovereign to enforce its laws. The court also found that BLM's decision not to evaluate tribal law did not impact tribal sovereignty. The court concluded that MHA's jurisdiction over Slawson's project was not a relevant factor to the approvals and therefore further development of the record was not required.Furthermore, the court found that MHA was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing as there was no dispute of material fact and MHA had adequate opportunities to submit evidence. Therefore, the court ruled that MHA had received all process required by the Constitution, laws, and agency regulation. View "Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation v. U.S. Dept. of the Interior" on Justia Law

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Facing a tight deadline from the Ninth Circuit, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops. Two environmental groups petitioned the EPA in 2007 to have all tolerances revoked. In denying the petition, the EPA concluded that their objections were “not supported by valid, complete, and reliable evidence.”   The Eighth Circuit granted the petitions, finding that the EPA’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. The court explained that in this case, the EPA believed it lacked discretion or at least acted that way. The Ninth Circuit’s opinion had already narrowed its options down to two: revoke the tolerances or modify them. With little time to act, the agency ruled out the second option, leaving only revocation by default. In doing so, however, it misread the statute and misunderstood the “scope of its discretion”. Therefore, the court set aside the decision as arbitrary and capricious. Further, the court explained that a partial ban was a real alternative for the EPA. It could have canceled some registrations and retained others that satisfied the statutory safety margin. View "RRVSG Assoc. v. Michael Regan" on Justia Law

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EEE Minerals, LLC, and a Trustee for The Vohs Family Revocable Living Trust, sued the State of North Dakota, the Board of University and School Lands, and the Board’s commissioner in a dispute over mineral interests in McKenzie County, North Dakota. Plaintiffs alleged that state law related to mineral ownership was preempted by federal law and that the defendants had engaged in an unconstitutional taking of the plaintiffs’ mineral interests. Plaintiffs sought damages, an injunction, and declaratory relief. The district court dismissed the action.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs contend that the Flood Control Act impliedly preempts the North Dakota statute because the state law “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.” The court explained that it is not convinced that the State’s determination of a high-water mark, and the attendant settling of property rights under state law, stands as an obstacle to accomplishing the objectives of the Flood Control Act. The court wrote that the interests of the United States and the goals of the Flood Control Act are unaffected by a dispute between the State and a private party over mineral rights that were not acquired by the federal government.   Further, the court explained that Plaintiffs have not established that the United States will be prevented from flooding or inundating any land covered by the 1957 deed in which the State claims ownership of mineral interests under state law. The Flood Control Act would not dictate that property rights be assigned to Plaintiffs. View "EEE Minerals, LLC v. State of North Dakota" on Justia Law

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Several cities in Minnesota alleged that a chemical in refined coal tar that was used in pavement sealants contaminated their stormwater ponds. They filed an action seeking damages from refiners and manufacturers of the tar. The “refiner” defendants take raw coal tar and refine it into a product used by the “manufacturer” defendants to create pavement sealants. The district court dismissed all of the claims against the refiners and dismissed all but three of the claims against the manufacturers. The Cities moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) for entry of final judgment against the refiners. The district court, however, denied the motion because the Cities had not “demonstrated a danger of hardship or injustice through delay which would be alleviated by immediate appeal.” The Cities then entered into an agreement with the manufacturers, which provided that the Cities would conditionally dismiss their claims against the manufacturers. The Cities then appealed the district court’s decision dismissing claims against the refiners, and some of the refiners cross-appealed.   The Eighth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court concluded that this conditional dismissal of the Cities’ claims against the manufacturers does not create a final decision under 28 U.S.C. Section 1291. The whole purpose of pairing the voluntary dismissal with the tolling agreement was to provide for reinstatement of the claims in the event of reversal—that is, to make the dismissal conditional. The court wrote that its only power to prevent the manipulation of appellate jurisdiction is a rigorous application of the final judgment requirement. View "City of Burnsville v. Koppers, Inc." on Justia Law

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In June 1949, Axel Anderson conveyed to L.S. Youngblood a ½ mineral interest in several tracts of land in Mountrail County, North Dakota (“the Disputed Lands”)In 2011, with the Andersons and Henry Johnson now deceased, grantee Johnson’s successors filed a quiet title action in state court against Nancy Finkle and grantor Andersons’ other successors to resolve the over conveyance, seeking title to a ½ mineral interest in the Disputed Lands (“the Finkle Litigation”).inkle appealed the quiet title order and judgment, arguing that an exception to the Duhig rule that is not at issue in this appeal applied and therefore the trial court should have awarded each side a 1/4 mineral interest in the Disputed Lands. In January 2008, Finkle, a successor to grantor Andersons’ mineral interests, conveyed by oil and gas lease her mineral interest leasehold and operating rights in the Disputed Lands to Montana Oil Properties, Inc. Northern Oil did not participate while Finkle defended the Johnson successors’ quiet title claim and asserted her own deed reformation counterclaim in state court.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court correctly granted summary judgment to the defendant on the ground that due to an over-conveyance of rights, Plaintiff had not obtained any mineral rights in the subject property when it acquired its interest in a leasehold. Further, the court held that the district court granted summary judgment dismissing Northern Oil’s reformation claim as time-barred by the ten-year statute of limitations in N.D.C.C. Section 28-01-15(2), applying a Supreme Court of North Dakota decision issued after the Finkle Litigation, Western Energy Corp. v. Stauffer, 921 N.W.2d 431, 434-35 (N.D. 2019). View "Northern Oil and Gas, Inc. v. EOG Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

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In September 2018, the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation (“the Bureau”) decided to move forward with a water project in North Dakota. The State of Missouri challenged the decision under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. Sections 701–706, the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. Sections 4321–4347, and the Water Supply Act of 1958 (“Water Supply Act”). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendants.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the Water Supply Act itself. Simply put, Congressional approval is Congressional approval. If the Bureau and the other defendants had sufficient project-specific authorization, they need not seek additional approval again under the Water Supply Act. The court further concluded that Missouri has not met its burden to show the Bureau’s reliance on the Garrison Diversion Act was erroneous here. First, Missouri has not shown the Central North Dakota Project is outside the scope of the 1984 Garrison Diversion Final Report. Second, Missouri’s only argument that the Central North Dakota Project involves an out-of-basin transfer is to point to its connection with the Red River Valley Project’s main transmission pipeline. View "State of Missouri v. U.S. Department of Interior" on Justia Law

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The Swampbuster Act and United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) regulations work together to provide farmers with the right to request reviews of wetland certifications. The Swampbuster Act’s review provision (“Swampbuster Review Provision”) provides that a prior wetland certification “shall remain valid and in effect . . . until such time as the person affected by the certification requests review of the certification by the Secretary.” In turn, a regulation (“Review Regulation”) provides procedural requirements a farmer must follow to make an effective review request.   Appellant filed an action alleging that: (1) the Review Regulation contravenes the Swampbuster Review Provision; (2) the Review Regulation was never submitted to Congress or the Comptroller General as required by the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”); and (3) the NRCS’s decisions to refuse to consider Appellants 2017 and 2020 review requests violated the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the Review Regulation imposes reasonable procedural requirements a farmer must follow to make an effective review request and thereby delimit a prior wetland certification. Because the Swampbuster Review Provision is silent as to the nature of an effective review request, the Review Regulation does not conflict with the Swampbuster Review Provision. Further, the court wrote that the CRA’s judicial review provision precludes review of Appellant’s CRA claim. Finally, the court held that the NRCS’s decisions to refuse to consider Appellant’s review requests were not arbitrary and capricious because Appellant failed to comply with the Review Regulation. View "Arlen Foster v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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In response to President Biden's Executive Order 13990, the State of Missouri and twelve other States ("the States") then filed this action against President Biden, the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases and other agencies, asserting four causes of action: (1)“Violation of the Separation of Powers;” (2) “Violation of Agency Statutes;” (3)“Procedural Violation of the APA”; and (4) “Substantive Violation of the APA.”The district court concluded the States lack Article III standing and their claims are not ripe for adjudication, granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and denied Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction as moot. The States appealed.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding that the States' request for the court to grant injunctive relief that directs “the current administration to comply with prior administrations’ policies on regulatory analysis [without] a specific agency action to review,” is “outside the authority of the federal courts” under Article III of the Constitution. View "State of Missouri v. Joseph Biden, Jr." on Justia Law

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The district court entered a Consent Decree between the City of Fort Smith, Arkansas (the City), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with the State of Arkansas. The Consent Decree imposed various sewer system improvement requirements on the City over an initial 12-year period. The Consent Decree’s requirements generally include (1) assessing the condition of the sewer system, (2) identifying control measures to address certain defects, and (3) developing a plan to ensure adequate capacity in the sewer system. The City filed a motion for judicial resolution. The district court granted the City’s motion and issued two orders on March 19, 2021, and April 30, 2021. The City appealed those two orders, challenging the court’s ruling that certain severe structural defects had to be repaired by a date certain.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that nothing in the Consent Decree or in Appendix D explicitly indicates that the decision tree only applies to defects with Grades 1 to 3 and not to Grades 4 and 5. But assuming arguendo that it applies to all defects identified in the City’s SSA irrespective of grade, Appendix D conflicts with Paragraph 18. Paragraph 18 provides that all Grade 4 and 5 defects must be included in the RMP. Accordingly, the court affirmed the conclusion of the district court that “the Consent Decree requires the City to resolve the defects in Grade 4 and 5 manholes and sewer lines, and this cannot be accomplished solely by monitoring and maintenance analysis.” View "United States v. City of Fort Smith, Arkansas" on Justia Law