Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
Belcher v. Dynamic Energy, Inc.
The first of these two consolidated cases involved a lawsuit filed by multiple individual plaintiffs against defendant coal companies alleging that Defendants’ mining activities had contaminated Plaintiffs’ well water with lead and arsenic. The jury returned verdicts for Defendants. During the course of the underlying litigation, Plaintiffs invoked the water replacement provisions of the West Virginia Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act, W. Va. Code 22-3-1 et seq. The circuit court issued a preliminary injunction requiring Defendants to provide replacement water until liability for the well water contamination had been established. After the jury rendered its verdicts, Defendants requested that the circuit court dissolve the injunction. The circuit court refused to dissolve the injunction while the matter was pending on appeal.The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the circuit court’s ruling refusing Plaintiffs’ motion to set aside the jury verdicts and for a new trial, holding that there was no error requiring reversal; and (2) reversed the circuit court’s ruling refusing to dissolve the preliminary injunction, holding that the injunction should have been dissolved. However, because during the pendency of the instant appeal Defendants failed to comply with the injunction, this case must be remanded for the parties to address that issue. View "Belcher v. Dynamic Energy, Inc." on Justia Law
Texas Eastern Transmission v. W. Va. Department of Environmental Protection
In these consolidated appeals requiring the Supreme Court to interpret various provisions of the West Virginia Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Rule (WVSCMRR), W.Va. CSR 38-2-1, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the order of the circuit court. The Supreme Court held that the circuit court (1) did not err in finding that the WVSCMRR does not require a coal company, in its application for modification of its mining permit, to demonstrate compliance with the Utility Protection Standard found at W.Va. 38-2-14.17; (2) did not err in ruling that the permit application sufficiently described how the coal operator would comply with the Utility Protection Standard; but (3) erred in finding that the WVSCMRR applied regardless of a coal operator’s common law property rights. View "Texas Eastern Transmission v. W. Va. Department of Environmental Protection" on Justia Law
State ex rel. ERP Environmental Fund v. Honorable Warren D. McGraw
The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition requested by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in connection with an order of the circuit court compelling the DEP to direct Eastern Associated Coal, LLC (Eastern) to provide emergency drinking water, temporary potable water, and, ultimately, permanent water replacement to Respondent-residents pursuant to the provisions of the West Virginia Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The court held that the prerequisites for mandamus relief were not present in this case because the circuit court lacked the authority to direct the DEP to obtain water replacement for Respondents under the provisions of SMCRA. View "State ex rel. ERP Environmental Fund v. Honorable Warren D. McGraw" on Justia Law
Posted in: Environmental Law
State ex rel. American Electric Power Co. v. Hon. Derek C. Swope
Respondents filed an amended complaint joining separate claims of seventy-nine individual plaintiffs, who alleged that they or their family members were injured by exposure to Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) generated at the General James M. Gavin Power Plant and disposed of at the associated Gavin Landfill (collectively, Gavin Landfill). Twelve plaintiffs (the NWDC Plaintiffs) alleged that they suffered injury as a result of take-home exposure to CCR. The Mass Litigation Panel (MLP) denied Petitioners’ motion to dismiss the claims of the NWDC Plaintiffs, concluding that the doctrine of lex loci delicti required the application of Ohio law to the claims of the NWDC Plaintiffs. The court further found that the application of the Ohio Mixed Dust Statute was contrary to the public policy of West Virginia and, applying West Virginia’s public policy exception to the rule of lex loci delicti, declined to apply Ohio law to the NWDC Plaintiffs’ claims. The Supreme Court granted Petitioners’ requested writ of prohibition, holding that the MLP’s application of the public policy exception to the doctrine of lex loci delicti was clearly erroneous in this case, and therefore, under Ohio’s Mixed Dust Statute, Petitioners’ motion to dismiss should have been granted as to the twelve NWDC Plaintiffs. View "State ex rel. American Electric Power Co. v. Hon. Derek C. Swope" on Justia Law
Commonwealth of Pa. v. Consol Energy, Inc.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) filed a complaint against Consol Energy, Inc. and Consolidation Coal Company (collectively, Consol) alleging West Virginia common law tort claims and seeking damages for massive losses of fish and aquatic life allegedly caused by Consol’s discharges of waste water into a stream that flows between West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The circuit court dismissed the complaint, concluding that PFBC was only authorized to bring civil suits for damages as a result of violations of Pennsylvania law, and PFBC had no authority to bring a cause of action under West Virginia common law. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that PFBC had sufficient interest in the fish and aquatic life under its control to give it standing to file suit in West Virginia and bring West Virginia common law tort claims against Consol to seek recovery of damages as a result of the fish kill. View "Commonwealth of Pa. v. Consol Energy, Inc." on Justia Law
Collett v. Eastern Royalty, LLC
Respondents, owners of coal-bearing properties in Taylor County, challenged tax assessments on their properties during the 2010 tax year. The County Assessor challenged the State Tax Commissioner's appraisals of Respondents' property in hearings before the Board of Equalization and Review after she had previously accepted those appraisals. The Board of Equalization and Review accepted the Assessor's proposed changes and changed the valuations of Respondents' properties, thus increasing the natural resources property tax owed by Respondents. The circuit court reversed the Board's valuation changes, finding that the Assessor violated W. Va. Code 11-1C-10(g) by challenging the Commissioner's appraisals. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) pursuant to section 11-1C-10(g), upon receiving the appraisal of natural resources property from the Commission, a county assessor may either accept or reject that proposal; (2) if the assessor rejects the appraisal, the assessor must show just cause for doing so; and (3) if the assessor accepts the appraisal, the assessor is foreclosed from later challenging the appraisal. View "Collett v. Eastern Royalty, LLC" on Justia Law
Thornsbury v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.
Plaintiffs were owners of the surface of a thirty-acre tract of land. Defendant, an oil and gas corporation, claimed that, in 1949, it leased the rights to the gas under the tract. In 2006, the parties entered into a contract allowing Defendant to build a 200-foot access road. Defendant later constructed a roadway approximately 1300 feet long on Plaintiffs' surface tract, erected an above-ground pipeline across the tract, and drilled a natural gas well. Plaintiffs sued Defendant alleging breach of contract. Defendant asserted it was entitled to summary judgment because of an exculpatory clause within a 1941 deed that severed the surface of the tract of property from the minerals below. Defendant contended that, as a lessee of the oil and gas under the property, it was a beneficiary of the exculpatory clause and entitled to operate on Plaintiffs' tract without liability for any injury to the surface by reason of removing minerals. The circuit court granted Defendant's motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that genuine issues of material fact remained on whether Defendant breached the contract. View "Thornsbury v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp." on Justia Law
Hominy Creek Pres. Ass’n v. W. Va. Dep’t of Env’t Prot.
In 2010, the Surface Mine Board ordered the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to pay the Hominy Creek Preservation Association's attorney fees for work performed in two administrative appeals. Eighty-two days after the Board granted the fee award to the Association, the DEP appealed the Board's order to the circuit court. The circuit court reversed, finding that the Association was not entitled to recovery attorney fees from the DEP. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order reversing the fee award and reinstated the Board's order, holding that the DEP failed to file a timely appeal of the Board's 2010 order. View "Hominy Creek Pres. Ass'n v. W. Va. Dep't of Env't Prot." on Justia Law