Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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Sturgell was a commercial fisher for 48 years. He held Dungeness crab permits in Washington, Oregon, and California. During the 2012–2013 season, Sturgell landed 203,045 pounds of crab in California. Sturgell’s taking of crab in California before the delayed opening of the Oregon crab fishery meant he was required to wait until January 30, 2013, before taking, possessing, or landing that crab in Oregon. He could take crab in Washington on January 24. On January 29, Sturgell arrived in Astoria, Oregon to offload the crabs he had taken in Washington. He began to offload crabs at 6:15 p.m and offloaded 38,295 pounds; the balance of the 64,694 total offload was completed by 4:00 a.m. on January 30. A “Receiving Ticket,” indicating the “date of landing” as January 29, 2013, was signed by Sturgell and the buyer. The buyer later stated that this was “in error” as the ticket was actually written, “between 4[:00] a.m. and 5[:00] a.m. on January 30, 2013, after the offload was completed.” Pursuant to Fish and Game Code section 8043, a landing receipt “shall be completed at the time of the receipt, purchase, or transfer of fish.” Sturgell’s permit was revoked. The trial court ordered the permit reinstated. The court of appeal dismissed the agency’s appeal as moot, with instructions that the trial court vacate its decision. Sturgill had retired and sold his permit for over $500,000. The Department approved the transfer. View "Sturgell v. Department of Fish and Wildlife" on Justia Law

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Under Water Code section 13304, a prior owner of property may be required to participate in the cleanup of wastes discharged from its property that resulted in groundwater contamination if that person “caused or permitted” the discharge. The San Francisco Regional Board named UATC in a cleanup order addressing waste discharges from dry cleaning operations at a shopping center owned by UATC in the 1960s and 1970s. The court of appeal reversed, in favor of the Board. The knowledge component of the statutory element of “permitted” focuses on the landlord’s awareness of a risk of discharge: a prior owner may be named in a section 13304 cleanup order upon a showing the owner knew or should have known that a lessee’s activity created a reasonable possibility of a discharge of wastes into waters of the state that could create or threaten to create a condition of pollution or nuisance. The court rejected UATC’s argument that its liability was discharged in a 2000 bankruptcy reorganization proceeding. Even assuming the Regional Board’s entitlement to a cleanup order was a claim within the meaning of bankruptcy law, it was not discharged in UATC’s bankruptcy proceeding because it did not arise before confirmation of reorganization. View "United Artists Theater Circuit, Inc. v. Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Region" on Justia Law

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Tesoro appealed the denial of a writ of mandate seeking to set aside a cleanup and abatement order (CAO) issued by the Regional Board. As a threshold matter, the court held that the factual question of when Tesoro's pipelines leaked pollutants was never answered because Tesoro never argued to the Regional Board that this action involved an impermissible retroactive application of the Porter-Cologne Act. The court held that where, as here, the administrative agency has not determined a factual predicate for a defense such as this one, administrative exhaustion should preclude the argument. Furthermore, the term "discharge" must be read to include not only the initial occurrence, but also the passive migration of the contamination into the soil and, ultimately, into the groundwater. The court held that substantial evidence supported the trial court's independent judgment that Tesoro's pipelines were the source of the contamination addressed in the CAO; it would have been futile for Tesoro to argue its narrow definition of "discharge" before the Regional Board, thereby excusing its failure to exhaust; and even if substantial evidence in the record supported Tesoro's factual contention that the initial discharge from its pipelines necessarily occurred before 1970, it would still be an actionable discharge under the Porter-Cologne Act. View "Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co., LLC v. L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law
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Plaintiff Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) filed a petition in June 2014 to overturn a March 2014 order of defendant Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control District1 (Water Board) that sought to impose liability for remediation of metallic and acidic water pollution from an abandoned mine, the owner of which was the subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest. The trial court granted the petition in January 2018. The Water Board appealed, contending the trial court applied the wrong legal standard to determine whether the ARCO predecessors incurred direct liability for control over activities resulting in the hazardous waste that the mine discharges. The Court of Appeal agreed the trial court employed too restrictive a standard in evaluating the evidence, and therefore reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the record under the proper standard. View "Atlantic Richfield v. Central Valley Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law

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The 86-acre Knights Valley parcel in rural Sonoma County is zoned “Land Extensive Agriculture,” which allows wineries and tasting rooms as conditional uses. The project is a two-story, 5,500-square-foot winery building with a 17,500-square-foot wine cave, wastewater treatment, water storage facilities, fire protection facilities, and mechanical areas, covering approximately 2.4 acres. The site contains two residences and 46 acres of vineyards. The nearby area is primarily vineyards. County staff reviewed reports considering impacts on geology, groundwater, wastewater, and biological resources, and concluded that, with recommended mitigation, the project would not have a significant effect on the environment. The county approved the use permit with conditions and adopted a mitigated negative declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000) and a mitigation monitoring program. The court of appeal upheld the approval. Opponents did not provide evidence that the project is reasonably likely to cause landslides or otherwise generate environmentally harmful releases of debris; that erosion from the project, particularly runoff from the cave spoils, will cause significant effects on Bidwell Creek and degrade the habitat for salmonids; or that the project’s groundwater use will significantly affect salmonids, groundwater supply in neighboring wells, and fire suppression. There was no substantial evidence that the winery will have a significant aesthetic impact or that there is a reasonable possibility the project, as conditioned, will significantly increase the risk of wildfires. View "Maacama Watershed Alliance v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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At issue in appeal was a challenge under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to a project proposing to expand an existing Walmart store by approximately 64,000 square feet (the Project). Years earlier, Walmart Stores, Inc. (Walmart), had proposed a larger expansion project that would have increased the size of the store by approximately 98,000 square feet. In 2009, the City of Chico (City) declined to approve that project. In 2015, Walmart returned to the City seeking approval of the current Project. After preparing a new environmental impact report (EIR), which showed the Project would have a significant and unavoidable traffic impact, the City certified the EIR and approved the Project. The City also adopted a statement of overriding considerations, concluding that the benefits of the Project outweighed its one unavoidable environmental impact. Plaintiff Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy (CARE) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City’s environmental review and approval of the Project, but the trial court denied the petition. CARE appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying the petition because: (1) the EIR failed to adequately evaluate the Project’s urban decay impacts; and (2) the City’s statement of overriding considerations is deficient. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy v. City of Chico" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Court of Appeal in this case was the proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center by the City of San Diego and of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel by One Park Boulevard, LLC (One Park, and collectively, the Project). The San Diego Unified Port District (Port) approved a port master plan amendment authorizing the Project (Amendment). The California Coastal Commission (Commission) certified the Amendment as consistent with the California Coastal Act, which required certain findings under the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA). San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition (Navy Broadway) filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus against the Commission and the Port to challenge the certification, later adding the City and One Park (collectively, Defendants). Defendants raised a statute of limitations defense, which the trial court rejected after a bench trial. The court then held a hearing on the merits, denied Navy Broadway's petition, and entered judgment for Defendants. Navy Broadway appealed the judgment, and Defendants filed a cross-appeal challenging the statute of limitations ruling. After its review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in rejecting Defendants' statute of limitations defense; the action should have been dismissed, and the judgment for Defendants should be affirmed. The Court elected to address Navy Broadway's appeal and further concluded it could affirm based on the merits of its petition too. View "San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition v. Cal. Coastal Com." on Justia Law

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The former hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When it opened in 1929, it was a luxury resort; the Spanish Revival-style building contains Heinsbergen murals, stenciled ceilings, exquisite tile, and wrought-iron light fixtures. In 1941, the building transferred to the U.S. Navy. It was used as a military hospital until 1962 when it was transferred to the state. Since 1963, the Department has operated a prison adjacent to the building, which served as administrative offices. In 2002, the Department moved its staff from the building and offered to donate it to the City of Norco. The transfer did not occur; 2012 legislation required the prison’s closure. The Department published a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), indicating that there was no funding for repair or rehabilitation and that continued deterioration is expected. The Legislature rescinded the closure order. The final EIR was subsequently certified. The Department indicated that it would not be able to repair or maintain the former hotel due to inadequate funds and higher, mission-critical maintenance priorities. The Foundation repeatedly encouraged the Department to perform necessary maintenance, then unsuccessfully sought a writ of mandate, alleging that the department failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Public Resources Code 21000 by allowing the “demolition by neglect” given the 2014 El Niño rains. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the petition. The Department’s inaction is not a “project” subject to CEQA. View "Lake Norconian Club Foundation v. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law
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The Department of Water Resources (DWR) applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) to extend its federal license to operate Oroville Dam and its facilities as a hydroelectric dam, the “Oroville Facilities Project.” A Settlement Agreement (SA)) by which the affected parties agreed to conditions for extending the license. “ DWR filed a programmatic (informational) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) as the lead agency in support of the application pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Plaintiffs challenged the sufficiency of the EIR, and the failure to consider the import of climate change, in the state courts and sought to enjoin the issuance of an extended license until their environmental claims were reviewed. The trial court denied the petition on grounds the environmental claims were speculative. In an earlier opinion the Court of Appeal held that the authority to review the EIR was preempted by the Federal Power Act (FPA), that the superior court lacked subject matter jurisdiction of the matter, and ordered that the case be dismissed. Plaintiffs petitioned for review in the Supreme Court, review was granted, and the matter was transferred back to the Court of Appeal with directions to reconsider the case in light of Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority, 3 Cal.5th 677 (2017). The Court determined the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), at issue in Eel River, was materially distinguishable from the FPA. Therefore, the Court concluded Eel River did not apply in this case. The plaintiffs could not challenge the environmental sufficiency of the program because review of that program lied with FERC and they did not seek review as required by 18 Code of Federal Regulations part 4.34(i)(6)(vii) (2003). The plaintiffs could not challenge the environmental predicate to the Certificate contained in the CEQA document because that was subject to review by FERC. The plaintiffs could not challenge the Certificate because it did not exist when this action was filed, and they could not challenge the physical changes made by the SWRCB in the Certificate until they were implemented. For these reasons the parties did not tender a federal issue over which the Court of Appeal had state CEQA jurisdiction. Accordingly, it dismissed the appeal with directions to the trial court to vacate its judgment and dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "County of Butte v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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Millennium and the City challenged the trial court's ruling that the proposed project failed to comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Stopthemillennium cross-appealed the trial court's decision regarding the draft environmental impact report's (EIR) disclosure of seismic impacts of the development. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err in concluding that the project description used by the City and Millennium failed to comply with CEQA's requirement of an accurate, stable and finite project description. Because the project description is at the heart of the EIR process in this case, the court held that it was not necessary to reach the parties' remaining contentions. View "Stopthemillenniumhollywood.com v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law