MGKF Litigation Blog

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit resurrected two separate lawsuits filed by residents living near the Willow Grove Naval Air Reserve Station in Horsham Township, Pennsylvania and the Naval Air Development Center in Warminster Township, Pennsylvania, which both seek to have the Navy fund medical monitoring programs for exposure to drinking water impacted by two emerging contaminants – perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (“PFOS”) – attributable to operations at the two Naval facilities. In two parallel cases that were joined for appeal – Giovanni et al. v. U.S. Dep’t of the Navy and Palmer et al. v. U.S. Dep’t of the Navy, 2018 WL 4702222 (3d Cir. Oct. 2, 2018) – the Third Circuit held that the residents’ claims for medical monitoring under the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”) were not barred by the Navy’s ongoing investigation and remediation at the sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), because a request for medical monitoring “does not interfere with or alter the ongoing cleanup efforts.” In contrast, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the residents’ separate claim that sought to have the Navy perform a government-led health assessment or health effects study, which was barred as a challenge to the Navy’s ongoing response actions at the sites.

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In the latest development in parallel cases captioned EQT Prod. Co. v. Department of Environmental Protection which have been moving through Pennsylvania state courts and the Environmental Hearing Board ("EHB") since early 2014, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the EHB’s assessment of penalties totaling $1,137,295.76 against the hydraulic fracturing company, EQT Production Company (“EQT”), for contamination to groundwater arising from a leaking wastewater impoundment. EQT Prod. Co. v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., No. 844 C.D. 2017, 2018 WL 4289310 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Sept. 10, 2018). Specifically, on September 10, 2018, the Commonwealth Court held that the EHB did not commit an error of law when it held that, under Clean Streams Law (“CSL”), penalties could be assessed for every day that contamination entered the groundwater from soils “through fundamental hydrologic principles,” even if the initial spill event had ceased and there was no direct evidence of daily transmission of contamination from soil to groundwater. Read More »

Reminding all Superfund practitioners that while the application of allocation principles and factors may be flexible it is not without boundaries, on September 11, 2018, the Third Circuit filed an opinion vacating and remanding a District Court’s equitable allocation of cleanup costs because the lower court’s methodology resulted in an allocation that was too “speculative.” Trinity Indus., Inc. v. Greenlease Holding Co., No. 16-1994, 2018 WL 4324261, at *12 (3d Cir. Sept. 11, 2018). The Court pointed to two "mathematical" errors in the District Court’s analysis, and noted that although courts do not have to be perfectly precise in their calculations, they must be able to demonstrate a solid mathematical foundation for arriving at their final number. The ruling also offered guidance for the lower court on an appropriate methodology and application of certain equitable factors. This guidance could prove helpful for other practitioners in this area of the law regarding what the Third Circuit would deem non-speculative, and therefore acceptable. Read More »

On August 3, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the petition for allowance of appeal filed by certain environmental groups challenging the Commonwealth Court’s decision to uphold a municipal ordinance allowing natural gas drilling in a mixed residential and agricultural (“R-AG”) zone. See Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et al., v. Middlesex Township Zoning Hearing Board, No. 270 WAL 2017. In doing so, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the lower court’s June 2, 2017 decision, finding that it had relied on a now-overruled environmental balancing test to decide that the municipal ordinance passed muster under Section I, Article 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment (“ERA”). Specifically, the Supreme Court directed the lower court to reconsider its decision in light of the Court’s more recent decisions in Pa. Envtl. Def. Fund. v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017), and Gorsline v. Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp., — A.3d—, 2018 WL 2448803 (Pa. 2018). The Supreme Court also directed the lower court consider the amendments contained in Middlesex Township’s Ordinance 127, which now expressly included gas well development in the R-AG zones. Read More »

The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution preserves the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which shields state governments and their agencies from federal litigation that seeks money damages or equitable relief. In general, a state government can only be sued if sovereign immunity is expressly waived by statute. For example, nearly every state and the federal government have enacted a “torts claims act” that abrogates sovereign immunity for certain claims based on the negligence of government employees, and states that accept federal funding are also not immune from federal discrimination suits. Where no waiver exists, the doctrine of sovereign immunity is broad and provides a shield to environmental suits, including claims under the federal Comprehensive, Environmental, Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), as the Fifth Circuit recently affirmed in United States Oil Recovery Site Potentially Responsible Parties Group v. Railroad Comm’n of Texas, et al., Dkt. No. 17-20361, __ F. 3d __, (5th Cir., Aug. 1, 2018). Read More »

Rule 23(c)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, “[w]hen appropriate, an action may be brought or maintained as a class action with respect to particular issues.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c)(4). Rule 23(b)(3), on the other hand, provides that a class action may be maintained only where “the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.” R. 23(b)(3). The Second, Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuit have adopted a “broad view” of class certification, permitting a district court to certify a class on particular issues under Federal Rule 23(c)(4), even where the traditional predominance requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) have not been met for the case as a whole. Only two circuits, the Fifth and Eleventh, ascribe to the more “narrow view” in which Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement is applied to prevent district courts from certifying particular issues under Rule 23(c)(4), without certifying an entire claim. In a recent case brought my homeowners alleging contamination to groundwater, Martin v. Behr Dayton Thermal Products LLC et al., No. 17-3663, — F.3d —, 2018 WL 3421711 (6 th Cir. July 18, 2018), the Sixth Circuit has now joined the majority of circuits addressing this issue by endorsing the “broad view” of issue-based class certification. Read More »