Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Dr. Hinchee, who resides in Florida, and Chevron appeal the district court's discovery order compelling production of Dr. Hinchee's documents to the Republic of Ecuador. Dr. Hinchee served as a testifying expert for Chevron in a related proceeding. The discovery dispute at issue stemmed from a suit brought by Ecuadorian plaintiffs alleging that Texaco's oil exploration in the Amazonian rain forest polluted private and public lands in Ecuador and that Texaco was responsible for plaintiffs' oil-related health problems and the environmental contamination of plaintiffs' property. The court concluded that Dr. Hinchee's notes and email communications with non-attorneys, including other experts, were relevant within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), and the Republic was thus entitled to discover these materials. Neither the text of Rule 26(b)(3)(A) nor its structure, history, and rationale support extending the work-product doctrine to all testifying expert materials. To the extent any attorney core opinion work-product was embedded in the 1,200 documents at issue here, Chevron and Dr. Hinchee could appropriately redact such portions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order compelling discovery. View "Republic of Ecuador v. Hinchee, et al." on Justia Law

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Cherokee Metropolitan District intervened in a lawsuit to try to minimize the loss of its water rights to some of its wells. In a separate legal malpractice action, Cherokee sued its former attorneys James Felt and James Culichia, and their firm Felt, Monson & Culichia, LLC (collectively "FMC"), alleging that FMC's negligence led to the eventual loss of those water rights. FMC sought to intervene in the water rights action, arguing that intervention was necessary in order to minimize damages it may have suffered in the legal malpractice case. The water court denied FMC's motion to intervene. FMC appealed. The Supreme Court found that despite taking opposite sides in the malpractice action, Cherokee and FMC shared an identical interest in the underlying water rights litigation. Because FMC did not made a compelling showing that Cherokee could not adequately represent the interest that it shared with Cherokee, the Court affirmed the water court's denial of FMC's motion to intervene as of right. Similarly, the Court dismissed FMC's appeal of the water court's denial of FMC's motion for permissive intervention because the water court did not abuse its discretion. View "Cherokee Metro. Dist. v. Felt, Monson & Culichia LLC" on Justia Law