Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
City of Burnsville v. Koppers, Inc.
Several cities in Minnesota alleged that a chemical in refined coal tar that was used in pavement sealants contaminated their stormwater ponds. They filed an action seeking damages from refiners and manufacturers of the tar. The “refiner” defendants take raw coal tar and refine it into a product used by the “manufacturer” defendants to create pavement sealants. The district court dismissed all of the claims against the refiners and dismissed all but three of the claims against the manufacturers. The Cities moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) for entry of final judgment against the refiners. The district court, however, denied the motion because the Cities had not “demonstrated a danger of hardship or injustice through delay which would be alleviated by immediate appeal.” The Cities then entered into an agreement with the manufacturers, which provided that the Cities would conditionally dismiss their claims against the manufacturers. The Cities then appealed the district court’s decision dismissing claims against the refiners, and some of the refiners cross-appealed. The Eighth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court concluded that this conditional dismissal of the Cities’ claims against the manufacturers does not create a final decision under 28 U.S.C. Section 1291. The whole purpose of pairing the voluntary dismissal with the tolling agreement was to provide for reinstatement of the claims in the event of reversal—that is, to make the dismissal conditional. The court wrote that its only power to prevent the manipulation of appellate jurisdiction is a rigorous application of the final judgment requirement. View "City of Burnsville v. Koppers, Inc." on Justia Law
Delaware v. Monsanto Company
According to allegations in the complaint, for over forty years, Monsanto was the only U.S. manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”). The federal government and states spent enormous sums cleaning up PCB environmental contamination. The State of Delaware alleged Monsanto knew that the PCBs it produced and sold to industry and to consumers would eventually be released into the environment and would cause lasting damage to public health and the State’s lands and waters. The State brought this action to hold Monsanto responsible for its cleanup costs, asserting claims for public nuisance, trespass, and unjust enrichment. A Delaware superior court dismissed the complaint, reasoning that even though the State alleged Monsanto knew for decades PCBs that were toxic and would contaminate the environment for generations, the State: (1) could not assert a public nuisance claim or trespass claim because Monsanto manufactured PCB products, which entered the environment after sale to third parties; (2) State did not have standing to bring a trespass claim because it held public lands in trust rather than outright and therefore did not have the exclusive possession of land needed to assert a trespass claim; (3) the superior court held it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the unjust enrichment claim as a standalone claim; and (4) the State could not use an unjust enrichment claim to recover future cleanup costs. The Delaware Supreme Court found the State pled sufficiently that even though Monsanto did not control the PCBs after sale it substantially participated in creating the public nuisance and causing the trespass by actively misleading the public and continuing to supply PCBs to industry and consumers knowing that PCBs were hazardous, would escape into the environment after sale to third parties, and would lead to widespread and lasting contamination of Delaware’s lands and waters. Further, the Supreme Court found the State alleged that it owned some land directly and therefore had exclusive possession of that land needed to assert a trespass claim. The Court affirmed in all other respects, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Delaware v. Monsanto Company" on Justia Law
Brown, et al. v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation, et al.
The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified two questions of law for the New Hampshire Supreme Court's consideration. Plaintiffs, individuals who presently or formerly lived in the Merrimack area, brought tort claims, including negligence, nuisance, trespass, and negligent failure to warn, alleging that defendants’ manufacturing process at its facility in the Town of Merrimack used chemicals that included perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). They alleged PFOA was a toxic chemical that was released into the air from the Merrimack facility and has contaminated the air, ground, and water in Merrimack and nearby towns. As a result, plaintiffs alleged the wells and other drinking water sources in those places were contaminated, exposing them to PFOA, placing them at risk of developing health problems, including testicular cancer, kidney cancer, immunotoxicity, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, and pregnancy induced hypertension. The first question from the federal circuit court asked whether New Hampshire recognized “a claim for the costs of medical monitoring as a remedy or as a cause of action” in plaintiffs' context. Depending on the answer to the first question, the second question asked, “what are the requirements and elements of a remedy or cause of action for medical monitoring” under New Hampshire law. Because the Supreme Court answered the first question in the negative, it did not address the second question. View "Brown, et al. v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation, et al." on Justia Law
John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company
Plaintiff regularly used Roundup on his lawn for about 30 years until 2016. Around 2016, Plaintiff was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma, which he believes was linked to the compound glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in Roundup. Plaintiff filed suit against Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup. In his four-count complaint, Plaintiff alleged strict liability for a design defect under Georgia law (Count I); strict liability for failure to warn under Georgia law Count II); negligence under Georgia law (Count III); and breach of implied warranties under Georgia law (Count IV). On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit was tasked with deciding whether the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiff’s failure to warn claim was preempted under Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Ac (FIFRA) because the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) had classified glyphosate as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans and approved the Roundup label. The Eleventh Circuit concluded it did and reversed the district court’s ruling. The court held that Plaintiff’s Georgia failure to warn claim is not preempted by the federal requirements under the FIFRA or the EPA actions pursuant to it. View "John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company" on Justia Law
Utah Physic. for Healthy Env’t v. Diesel Power Gear, et al.
Defendants’ businesses focused on large diesel trucks and related parts, merchandise, and media. In 2017 Defendants were sued by Plaintiff Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), a nonprofit organization that alleged, among other things, that Defendants were tampering with required emission-control devices and installing so-called “defeat devices” in violation of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and Utah’s State Implementation Plan. After a bench trial the court entered judgment in favor of UPHE, finding Defendants collectively liable for hundreds of violations of the CAA and Utah’s plan and assessing over $760,000 in civil penalties. On appeal Defendants challenged UPHE’s Article III and statutory standing, the district court’s inclusion of certain kinds of transactions in its tabulation of violations, and the court’s penalty analysis. Although the Tenth Circuit rejected most of Defendants’ arguments, it felt compelled to remand this case back to the district court for additional proceedings because: (1) UPHE lacked Article III standing to complain of conduct by Defendants that had not contributed to air pollution in Utah’s Wasatch Front; and (2) the district court needed to reevaluate the seriousness of Defendants’ violations of the Utah plan’s anti-tampering provision. View "Utah Physic. for Healthy Env't v. Diesel Power Gear, et al." on Justia Law
Alabama v. Volkswagen AG
The State appealed a circuit court order that, among other things, dismissed its claims against Volkswagen AG ("VWAG"). The State had filed a complaint claiming VWAG and other defendants, violated the Alabama Environmental Management Act ("the AEMA"), and the Alabama Air Pollution Control Act of 1971 ("the AAPCA") when cars VWAG produced had "defeat devices" installed, designed to alter emissions readings on cars with diesel engines. In other words, the complaint alleged defendants had tampered with the emission-control systems or ordered third parties to tamper with the emission-control systems of vehicles that were licensed and registered in the State of Alabama. Giving its reasons for dismissal, the Supreme Court determined that given the unique factual situation involved in this case, and based on reasoning set by the multi-district litigation court, allowing the State to proceed would "stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Therefore, the trial court properly granted VWAG's motion to dismiss. View "Alabama v. Volkswagen AG" on Justia Law
People v. ConAgra Grocery Products Co.
The State of California prevailed in a representative public nuisance action against ConAgra, NL, and Sherwin-Williams. The trial court ordered the defendants to pay $1.15 billion into a fund to be used to abate the public nuisance created by interior residential lead paint in the ten counties represented by the state. The court of appeal affirmed in part, noting that the absence of a regulation or statute declaring interior residential lead paint to be unlawful does not bar a court from declaring it to be a public nuisance. The court reversed in part, holding that substantial evidence did not support causation as to residences built after 1950, and remanded to the trial court with directions to recalculate the amount of the abatement fund to limit it to the amount necessary to cover the cost of remediating pre-1951 homes, and hold an evidentiary hearing regarding the appointment of a suitable receiver. View "People v. ConAgra Grocery Products Co." on Justia Law
In re: MTBE Products Liability Litig.
This case involved long-running multidistrict litigation concerning contamination of groundwater by the organic compound MTBE, which was used as a gasoline additive by Exxon and others. The court concluded that the state law tort verdict against Exxon was not preempted by the federal Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401; the jury's finding that the MTBE levels in Station Six Wells will peak at 10ppb in 2033 was not inconsistent with a conclusion that the City had been injured; the City's suit was ripe because the City demonstrated a present injury and the suit was not barred by the statute of limitations; the jury's verdict finding Exxon liable under state tort law theories was not precluded by the jury's concurrent conclusion that the City had not carried its burden, in the design-defect context, of demonstrating a feasible, cost-reasonable alternative to MTBE available to satisfy the standards of the now-repealed Reformulated Gasoline Program; Exxon's demand for a retrial because of an incident of juror misconduct was unavailing; the jury properly offset the gross damages award by amounts it reasonably attributed to cleanup of contaminants other than MTBE; and the City was not entitled to a jury determination of Exxon's liability for punitive damages. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in its entirety.View "In re: MTBE Products Liability Litig." on Justia Law