Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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Petitioners challenged the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to accurately estimate the amount of Reactive Organic Gas (ROG) emissions and to adopt all feasible mitigation measures. The challenge arises from the approval of a geothermal plant to be located on fedeal land in Mono County, California. Petitioners also claimed the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (District) was not the proper lead agency to undertake preparation of the EIR. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the District was the proper lead agency, and that the permit limiting the daily ROG emissions was sufficient evidence of the amount of the emissions. However, the Court determined the District did not adequately analyze whether the additional mitigation measures proposed by petitioners were feasible to limit ROG emissions. Therefore, the Court reversed the part of the judgment relating to the District’s consideration of the proposed mitigation measures, but affirmed in all other respects. View "Covington v. Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control Dist." on Justia Law

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Defendant the City of Sacramento (City) approved and adopted a 2035 General Plan in March 2015. At the same time, the City certified the environmental impact report (EIR) for the 2035 General Plan in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. Plaintiff Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation (Citizens) filed a petition for writ of mandate and injunctive relief and a complaint for declaratory relief (petition) against the City and its city council seeking to set aside both administrative actions. The trial court denied the petition, upholding both actions; Citizens appealed, challenging the validity of the 2035 General Plan and the EIR. It contends the Court of Appeal should vacate the trial court’s ruling regarding the 2035 General Plan and order the City to rescind its approval thereof because a sentence in the introductory paragraph violated and conflicted with state planning laws. Citizens also argued the Court should do the same as to the EIR because the City’s analyses pertaining to traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, cyclist safety, and the “no project” alternative failed to comply with CEQA, and the City was required to recirculate the EIR after releasing substantial supplemental changes shortly before the city council’s public hearing. Finding no merit in Citizens’s arguments, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation v. City of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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Stephen Taylor was convicted by jury of numerous sex offenses against his adopted daughters, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. In total, the jury convicted him on 12 counts. The trial court sentenced him to prison for a one-year determinate term and an aggregate indeterminate term of 165 years to life. On appeal, Taylor argued the trial court erred by admitting expert testimony on child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, and instructing the jurors that they could use that evidence to evaluate the victims’ credibility. He also claimed the court made several sentencing errors: (1) by imposing two indeterminate terms under the former “One Strike” law for two offenses that occurred during a single occasion; (2) by imposing multiple punishments for four counts of aggravated sexual assault and four counts of lewd acts arising from the same facts; and (3) by imposing a restitution fine and court operations and facilities fees without an ability to pay hearing. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court erred by imposing multiple punishments on four counts of aggravated sexual assault (counts 1 through 4) and four counts of forcible lewd acts (counts 5 through 8) that arose from the same conduct. Accordingly, Taylor’s sentence was stayed on counts 5 through 8. The Court also agreed the court should hold an ability to pay hearing, at least as to the court operations and facilities fees. Therefore, the Court reversed the order imposing those fees and remanded for a hearing on Taylor’s ability to pay them. As to the restitution fine, Taylor forfeited his contention. The Court otherwise rejected Taylor’s arguments and affirmed. View "Holden v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Commercial crab traps must have a destruction device so that trapped wildlife can escape if the trap is lost or abandoned. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was patrolling Monterey Bay and saw crab trap buoys in the Soquel Canyon State Marine Conservation Area, where crab trapping is prohibited. Each of 29 traps was attached to a buoy bearing Wetle’s license number and had a tag bearing the Dungeness crab permit number belonging to Wetles. In some pulled traps, the bait jar was placed to prevent the destruction device from operating. The crew put a note to call the warden in a trap and returned it to the water. Bond, the skipper of the fishing vessel owned by Wetle’s father and Wetle’s wife, responded. Bond had previously been convicted of three felonies and five misdemeanors. Wetle was convicted under California Code of Regulations 14 section 632(a)(1)(C) and section 180.2 (Fish and Game Code 12000(a)). The appellate division of the Monterey County Superior Court affirmed. The court of appeal reversed, noting Wetle’s evidence that he was out of the country at the time the traps were placed. The trial court committed prejudicial instructional error. It did not instruct jurors that they must find that the defendant himself used the defective trap, which is an element of the offense View "People v. Wetle" on Justia 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