Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
Jenkins v. Brandt-Hawley
The Jenkinses bought a one-bedroom home, built in 1909, with a small accessory cottage in San Anselmo. Following conversations with an architect, contractors, and the Town Planning Director, they sought permits to demolish the existing structures and build a new home with a detached studio. The Planning Commission approved the project. The Jenkinses nevertheless worked with neighbors to accommodate their concerns and submitted revised plans, which were also approved. Four individuals unsuccessfully appealed to the Town Council. Attorney Brandt-Hawley filed a mandamus petition on behalf of an unincorporated association and an individual, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), although the appeal did not include any CEQA claim and CEQA has a categorical exemption for single-family homes, and “violation of the Town Municipal Code,” without citation.The trial judge denied the petition, criticizing aspects of Brandt-Hawley’s briefing and advocacy. Petitioners appealed, then offered to dismiss the appeal for a waiver of fees and costs. The Jenkinses rejected the offer. On the day the opening brief was due, Brandt-Hawley dismissed the appeal. The Jenkinses sued Brandt-Hawley for malicious prosecution. The court denied Brandt-Hawley’s special anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike. The court of appeal affirmed. The Jenkinses met their burden under step two of the anti-SLAPP procedure demonstrating a probability of success on their complaint. View "Jenkins v. Brandt-Hawley" on Justia Law
State v. Audi Aktiengesellschaft
In these consolidated appeals the Supreme Court denied Respondents' request to withdraw the Chief Justice's certification letter and dismiss the underlying petitions as improvidently granted, holding that the Governor's appointment of two substitute justices to participate in the determination of these cases did not violate due process or due course of law protections.After two of the Supreme Court's nine justices voluntarily recused themselves from the case, the Chief Justice requested that the Governor appoint two qualified justices or judges to participate in the Court's determination of these appeals. Respondents objected, arguing that allowing the Governor to appoint justices would create due process and ethical problems where the State was not a party. The Supreme Court denied Respondents' requests to dismiss the petitions as improvidently granted, holding (1) there was no serious risk of actual bias under Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 556 U.S. 868 (2009); and (2) the Governor's appointment of the two substitute justices did not taint the commissioned justices with the appearance of partiality or impropriety under the Texas ethical rules. View "State v. Audi Aktiengesellschaft" on Justia Law
National Family Farm Coalition v. United States Environmental Protection Agency
In 2020, the Ninth Circuit vacated the EPA’s conditional registrations for three dicamba-based herbicides as violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. 136n(b). The court found that the EPA substantially understated risks that it acknowledged and failed entirely to acknowledge other risks. In a subsequent petition, seeking attorneys’ fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A), the plaintiffs in the underlying action argued that their requested attorneys’ fees should be calculated based on the market rates in San Francisco, where their petition for review was calendared for oral argument. Only one of their four attorneys is located in San Francisco. The other three are located in Portland.The Ninth Circuit disagreed. Where, as here, attorneys’ fees are incurred in connection with a petition for review in a court of appeals under FIFRA, the presumptive relevant community for calculating market rates is the legal community where counsel are located and where they do the bulk of their work. View "National Family Farm Coalition v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law
The Estate of Richard S. Daniels, by and through Julie Lyford in her capacity as Executor et al.
Plaintiff Richard Daniels appealed a trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Attorney James Goss, Attorney Matthew Hart, and law firm Facey Goss & McPhee P.C. (FGM), arguing the court erred when it concluded he could not prove defendants caused his injury as a matter of law. Defendants represented plaintiff in a state environmental enforcement action where he was found liable for a hazardous-waste contamination on his property. On appeal, plaintiff claimed defendants failed to properly raise two dispositive defenses: the statute of limitations and proportional liability. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiff would not have prevailed on either defense if raised and therefore affirmed the grant of judgment to defendants. View "The Estate of Richard S. Daniels, by and through Julie Lyford in her capacity as Executor et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Brace
Brace, a farmer, owns hundreds of acres in Erie County, Pennsylvania. He cleared 30 acres of wetlands, draining it to grow crops. In 1994, the Third Circuit affirmed that Brace had violated the Clean Water Act. In 2012, Brade bought 14 additional acres of wetlands. Again, he engaged in clearing, excavation, and filling without required permits. During a second suit under the Act, Brace’s counsel submitted perfunctory pleadings and failed to cooperate in discovery, repeatedly extending and missing deadlines. Counsel submitted over-length briefs smuggling in extra-record materials. The court repeatedly struck Brace’s materials but generally chose leniency. Eventually, the court struck Brace’s opposition to summary judgment after analyzing the “Poulis factors,” then granted the government summary judgment on liability, holding that Brace had violated the Act. The court ordered Brace to submit a proposed deed restriction and restoration plan.The Third Circuit rejected Brace’s appeal. While “it stretches credulity [to believe that Brace had] no idea how counsel [wa]s conducting this case,” the court gave Brace the benefit of the doubt. Brace’s lawyer’s misconduct forced the government to waste time and money “deciphering incomprehensible pleadings, scouring through noncompliant briefs, and moving again and again for compliance" to no avail. Counsel acted in bad faith; repeated orders to show cause, warnings, and threats of sanctions did not deter counsel’s chronic misbehavior. The sanction “was hardly an abuse of discretion.” View "United States v. Brace" on Justia Law
Canyon Crest Conservancy v. County of Los Angeles
Canyon Crest filed suit challenging the approval of a conditional use permit and an oak tree permit granted to real party in interest Stephen Kuhn. Canyon Crest, a nonprofit organization established by Kuhn's immediate neighbors, alleged that defendants violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by granting the permits. Kuhn subsequently requested that the county vacate the permit approvals, because he could not afford to continue the litigation.Canyon Crest then sought attorney fees under the private attorney general doctrine pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's finding that Canyon Crest failed to establish any of the requirements for a right to fees under the statute. In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the litigation did not enforce an important right affecting the public interest. Furthermore, Canyon Crest failed to establish that this action conferred a significant benefit on the general public. View "Canyon Crest Conservancy v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law
Ex parte Utilities Board of the City of Tuskegee.
In May 2017, Jerry Tarver, Sr., sued the Utilities Board of the City of Tuskegee ("UBT") and numerous other defendants seeking damages based on alleged exposure to contaminated water purportedly caused by defendants' combined and concurring negligence. The UBT petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Macon Circuit Court to vacate its December 2017 order disqualifying UBT's retained counsel, Huie, Fernambucq & Steward, LLP (the Huie Firm) from representing it in Tarver's suit. The Supreme Court determined Tarver did not present evidence indicating that a Huie firm lawyer, in his capacity as a commissioner of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, was a conflict of interest regarding the attorney's representation of UBT. Therefore, the attorney was not disqualified under Rule 1.11(a), Ala. R. Prof. Cond., and no disqualification could be imputed to the Huie firm. View "Ex parte Utilities Board of the City of Tuskegee." on Justia Law
Heron Bay Homeowners Association v. City of San Leandro
Halus owned land in a San Leandro industrial zone, where it designed and manufactured wind turbines. It proposed to install a 100-foot-tall wind turbine to generate energy and conduct research and development; it sought a variance from zoning restrictions on height. San Leandro conducted an analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000) (CEQA). The turbine would have been within the San Francisco Bay Estuary, a major refuge for many species, including threatened or endangered species, and 500 feet from a residential development. The city proposed a mitigated negative declaration (MND) allowing the project to go forward with mitigation measures. In response to comments and objections, San Leandro released a revised MND adding mitigation or monitoring recommended by the Department of Fish and Game, without requiring an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). HOA filed suit. The court held that San Leandro failed to comply with CEQA. San Leandro set aside its approval. The project did not proceed. The court granted HOA attorneys’ fees, Code of Civil Procedure 1021.5. The court of appeal affirmed, finding that the action resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest, a significant benefit was conferred on the general public or a large class of persons, and the necessity and financial burden of private enforcement made the award appropriate. View "Heron Bay Homeowners Association v. City of San Leandro" on Justia Law
Tucker v. Town of Minturn
The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a non-attorney trustee of a trust could proceed pro se before the water court. Appellant-trustee J. Tucker appealed the water court’s ruling that as trustee of a trust, he was not permitted to proceed because he was representing the interests of others. He also appealed the court’s order granting appellee Town of Minturn’s application for a finding of reasonable diligence in connection with a conditional water right. Appellant’s pro se issue was one of first impression before the Supreme Court, and the Court held that the water court correctly ruled that as a non-attorney trustee, appellant could not proceed pro se on behalf of the trust. In light of that determination, the Court did not address appellant’s other arguments regarding the sufficiency of the verification. View "Tucker v. Town of Minturn" on Justia Law
State v. 3M Co.
In 2010, the State retained Covington & Burling, LLP (“Covington”) to represent it in a natural resource damages case against 3M Company (“3M”) involving the manufacture and disposal of perfluorochemicals, which are a subset of all fluorochemicals. In 2012, 3M moved to disqualify Covington as counsel for the State because Covington had previously represented 3M in legal and regulatory matters related to 3M’s fluorochemicals business from 1992 to 2006. The district court granted 3M’s disqualification motion. Both the State and Covington appealed. The court of appeals dismissed Covington’s appeal for lack of standing and affirmed the disqualification of Covington. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, holding (1) an attorney has standing to appeal when a district court finds that the attorney violated the rules of professional conduct and disqualifies the attorney from the representation, and therefore, Covington had standing to appeal the disqualification order; (2) the district failed to use the proper legal standard in disqualifying Covington under Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.9(a); and (3) remand was required to permit the district court to make the necessary factual findings and determine whether 3M waived the right to seek disqualification of Covington.View "State v. 3M Co." on Justia Law