Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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The First Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissing Blackstone Headwaters Coalition, Inc.'s complaint alleging that Defendants had violated the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq., holding that the district court erred by granting summary judgment on Count I of the complaint.Plaintiff, a non-profit environmental organization, sued two companies and two individuals involved in the development of a residential construction site in Massachusetts. In Count I of the complaint, Plaintiff alleged that three defendants had violated the Federal CWA by failing to obtain from the EPA a construction general permit. Count II alleged that all four defendants had violated the Federal CWA by failing to prevent sediment-laden stormwater discharges from flowing from that construction site into waters leading to the Blackstone River. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The First Circuit reversed in part, holding that nothing supported Defendants' argument that a citizen suit under the Federal CWA cannot be brought against an entity that is alleged to be an operator of a construction site that is unlawfully discharging pollutants into federal waters long as another entity controlled by the same individuals has such permit coverage. View "BBlackstone Headwaters Coalition, Inc. v. Gallo Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this action challenging Stanislaus County's classification of well construction permits the Supreme Court held that the blanket classification of all permit issuances as ministerial was unlawful and that under the ordinance authorizing the issuance of these permits some of the County's decisions may be discretionary.Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Cal. Pub. Resources Code, 21000 et seq., any government action that may directly or indirectly cause a physical change to the environment is a project, including the issuance of a permit. Projects can be either discretionary or ministerial actions, and discretionary projects general require some level of environmental review, while ministerial projects do not. In this case, Plaintiffs challenged Stanislaus County's practice of categorically classifying a subset of its issuance of well construction permits as ministerial, arguing that the permit issuances are discretionary projects requiring CEQA review. The trial court found the permit issuances were ministerial. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiffs were entitled to a declaration that classifying all issuances as ministerial violates CEQA; but (2) Plaintiffs were not entitled to injunctive relief because they failed to demonstrate that all permit decisions covered by the classification practice were discretionary. View "Protecting Our Water & Environmental Resources v. County of Stanislaus" on Justia Law

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The Ventura County Board planned a five-story ambulatory care clinic at the 40-acre Ventura County Medical Center. The 1993 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) stated that the building would be up to 75 feet high and included drawings that did not show building height. The Board filed a Notice of Determination (NOD) that mentioned nothing about height. Detailed plans showed the height to the roofline as 72 feet. Parapets rose to 88.5 feet. The county delayed until 2005 when Board decided to relocate the Clinic 200 feet north and 160 feet west, purportedly to reduce environmental impact and to more centrally locate the project around parking. The relocated building would be about 5 feet lower due to topography. The Board prepared an EIR "Addendum" and again filed a NOD that did not mention height. In 2007 the plans were modified to show a height of 90 feet, including parapets. In 2008, a neighbor saw an "auger rig" at the construction site and inquired. He was shocked to learn that the equipment was going to be used to construct a 90-foot high building and joined an organization that unsuccessfully sought an injunction. The court ordered preparation a supplemental EIR. Construction was completed in October 2010. The court of appeal affirmed. View "Ventura Foothill Neighbors v. Cnty. of Ventura" on Justia Law

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The Project area includes Treasure Island, 404 acres of landfill placed on former tidelands in San Francisco Bay, plus Yerba Buena Island, an adjacent, 160-acre, natural rock outcropping. Treasure Island and the causeway to Yerba Buena Island were constructed in the 1930s for the Golden Gate Exposition. During World War II, the area was converted to a naval station, which operated for more than 50 years. Conditions include aging infrastructure, environmental contamination, deteriorated buildings, and impervious surfaces over 65 percent of the site. In 2011, after more than a decade of planning, study, and input, the board of supervisors approved the Project, amended the general plan and code maps and text, and approved policies and standards for the redevelopment. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) envisions a new, mixed-use community with about 8,000 residential units (about 25 percent designated as affordable units); up to 140,000 square feet of commercial and retail space; about 100,000 square feet of office space; restoration of historic buildings; 500 hotel rooms; utilities; 300 acres of parks, playgrounds, and public open space; bike and transit facilities; and a new ferry terminal and intermodal transit hub. Construction would be phased over 15-20 years. CSTI unsuccessfully challenged the EIR’s approval under the California Environmental Quality Act, Pub. Res. Code 21000. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the EIR should have been prepared as a program EIR, not a project-level EIR. Opponents claimed that there was insufficient detail about matters such as remediation of hazardous materials, building and street layout, historical resources and tidal trust resources, for “project-level” review. View "Citizens for a Sustainable Treasure Island v. San Francisco" on Justia Law

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The Fillers planned to demolish an unused Chattanooga factory. They knew the site contained asbestos, a hazardous pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Environmental Protection Agency regulations require removal of all asbestos before any demolition. Asbestos materials must be wetted, lowered to the ground, not dropped, labeled, and disposed of at an authorized site. Fillers hired AA, a certified asbestos surveying company, which estimated that it would cost $214,650 to remove the material safely. Fillers hired Mathis to demolish the factory in exchange for salvageable materials. Mathis was required to use a certified asbestos contractor. Mathis applied for an EPA demolition permit, showing an estimated amount of asbestos far less than in the AA survey. The agency’s asbestos coordinator contacted Fillers to verify the amount of asbestos. Fillers did not send the survey, but provided a revised estimate, far less than the survey’s estimate. After the permit issued, the asbestos contractor removed “[m]aybe, like, 1/100th” of the asbestos listed in the AA survey. Temporary laborers were hired, not equipped with protective gear or trained to remove asbestos. Fillers supervised. The work dispersed dust throughout the neighborhood. An employee of a daycare facility testified that the children were unable to play outside. Eventually, the EPA sent out an emergency response coordinator and declared the site an imminent threat. Mathis and Fillers were convicted of conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 371, and violations of the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7413(c). Fillers was also convicted of making a false statement, 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2), and obstruction of justice, 18 U.S.C.1519. The district court sentenced Mathis to 18 months’ imprisonment and Fillers to 44 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.View "United States v. Mathis" on Justia Law

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Various Community Groups and the Detroit International Bridge Company sued the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), challenging the Record of Decision (ROD) issued in 2009, selecting the Delray neighborhood of Detroit as the preferred location alternative for a new international bridge crossing between the U.S. and Canada. The Bridge Company owns and operates the existing Ambassador Bridge, about two miles from the proposed new crossing. The Bridge Company also owns property in the Delray neighborhood. The complaint alleged that selecting the Delray neighborhood as the preferred alternative violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act; Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA); and “applicable legal authorities” on environmental justice, essentially because the decision was arbitrary and capricious.” The district court held that the Bridge Company had prudential standing to challenge the ROD and affirmed the ROD. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting extensive study of the project. View "Latin Ams. for Social & Econ. Dev. v. Adm'r of Fed. Highway Admin." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sold a parcel of land adjacent to a golf club to New South Properties (New South) for development as a residential community. New South hired Hunter Construction Group (Hunter) to prepare the parcel for construction. Hunter built erosion control structures and devices, including a silt collection basin. However, a dam Hunter constructed to form the silt collection basin ruptured, causing mud, water, and debris to flood the golf course. As a result of the damage to the golf course, Plaintiffs filed an action against New South, Apple Creek and Hunter, alleging negligence, nuisance, trespass, and violations of the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act (SPCA). The trial court granted summary judgment to Defendants on the SPCA claim. Plaintiffs appealed and withdrew their appeal against all defendants except Hunter. The court of appeals affirmed. Without considering the merits of Plaintiffs' appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding that because Hunter was never cited for a violation for section 113A-66 of the SPCA, Plaintiffs did not have standing to bring a civil action against Hunter pursuant to section 113A-66. View "Applewood Props., LLC v. New S. Props., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, in anticipation of Revett Silver Company and RC Resources, Inc. (collectively, "Revett") seeking approval for mine-related construction under a general permit, filed this action against the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) seeking a declaratory judgment that use of general permits to approve stormwater runoff from the Rock Creek Mine would violate Mont. Admin. R. 17.30.1341(4)(e) because Rock Creek is an area of "unique ecological significance" based on considerations of impacts on fishery resource and local conditions at proposed discharge. The district court granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs and declared the general permit void. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that DEQ's approval of the use of the general permit to allow storm water discharges was arbitrary and capricious because DEQ failed to consider the relevant factors set forth in the law prior to its decision, and as a result, committed a clear error of judgment. View "Clark Fork Coalition v. Dep't of Envtl. Quality" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the New York City School Construction Authority (Authority) violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) during a construction project by failing to discuss in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) the methods it adopted for long-term maintenance and monitoring of the controls it used to prevent or mitigate environmental harm. Petitioners brought this action challenging that Authority's SEQRA compliance. Supreme court ordered the Authority to prepare a supplemental EIS based on any changes to the final EIS as a result of the Authority's completed, detailed long-term maintenance and monitoring plan. The Authority did not file a supplemental EIS but, instead, moved for reargument and renewal, asserting that its submission of a site management plan removed the need for any further SEQRA filing. Supreme court adhered to its previous ruling on reargument, and the appellate division affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) where important decisions about mitigation can only be made after the initial remedial measures are complete, a supplemental EIS may be called for, as it is here; and (2) nor does the submission of a site management plan justify short-circuiting SEQRA review. View "Bronx Comm. for Toxic Free Schs. v. N.Y. City Sch. Constr. Auth." on Justia Law

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This case was a challenge to the State of Washington's Building Code brought by the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) along with individual builders and contractors. The impetus for this challenge was the State's 2009 requirement that new building construction must meet heightened energy conservation goals. At issue was the Energy Policy and Conservation Act's (EPCA) preemption-exemption provision, which expressly preempts state standards requiring greater efficiency than federal standards but exempts from preemption state building codes promoting energy efficiency, so long as those codes meet statutory conditions. Plaintiffs argued that the Building Code did not satisfy EPCA's conditions for exemption. The district court held that Washington had satisfied EPCA's conditions and therefore was not preempted. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that the Building Code satisfied the conditions Congress set forth in the EPCA for exemption from federal preemption. View "Bldg. Ind. Ass'n of Wash. v. Wash. State Bldg. Code" on Justia Law