Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required that owners of underground storage tanks demonstrate their ability to pay cleanup costs and compensate third parties for bodily injury and property damage arising out of releases of petroleum products from their tanks. New Hampshire’s Oil Discharge and Disposal Cleanup Fund (ODD Fund) was an EPA-approved program that complied with the federal requirement. In 2003, the State sued several gasoline suppliers, refiners, and chemical manufacturers seeking damages for groundwater contamination allegedly caused by methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). In 2012, petitioners sought a declaratory judgment and equitable relief against the State. Each petitioner was a “distributor” of oil under RSA chapter 146-D and paid fees into the ODD Fund. They alleged that “[t]o date, the costs of MTBE remediation in the State of New Hampshire has been paid for primarily through” the ODD Fund, and that that fund was financed, in part, through fees that they paid. Petitioners sought a declaration that those fees “are unconstitutional as the [State] has recovered and/or will recover funds from the MTBE Lawsuit for the cost of MTBE remediation,” and that those fees should be reimbursed to them from: (1) “the settlement proceeds the [State] has received and will receive through the MTBE Litigation”; (2) “any future recovery the [State] receives through the MTBE Litigation”; and (3) “[a]dditionally, or in the alternative, . . . from the funds recovered, and/or to be recovered in the future in the MTBE Litigation, . . . under principles of equitable subrogation and/or unjust enrichment.” On appeal, the petitioners argue that the trial court erred in ruling that they lacked standing to seek reimbursement of their fees from the settlement funds. They also argued that the trial court erred in ruling that their equitable claims are barred by sovereign immunity. Find View "Aranosian Oil Co., Inc. v. New Hampshire" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Old Dutch Mustard Co., Inc. appealed a New Hampshire Waste Management Council (Council) decision upholding a determination by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) to grant a permit to intervenor Pioneer Point Enterprises, LLC (Pioneer), to build and operate a solid waste facility adjacent to the petitioner's property. In May 2008, Pioneer applied for a permit to operate a solid waste management facility in an existing structure near the Souhegan River in Greenville. The Souhegan River was a "designated river" under the New Hampshire Rivers Management and Protection Act (RMPA), and under the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act (CSPA). DES denied the permit, concluding that the proposed facility violated the 250-foot setback requirement for solid waste facilities specified in the RMPA. Approximately six months later, Pioneer submitted an amended application, accompanied by a request for a waiver to build a new access driveway within fifty feet of the petitioner’s property. After the hearing, the Council ruled that the petitioner failed to prove that the issuance of the permit and waiver was either unreasonable or unlawful under the circumstances of this case. Petitioner argued on appeal that the Council erred when it: (1) concluded that only Unit 2 constituted the facility, or, alternatively, that Unit 2 itself did not violate the 250-foot setback; (2) failed to rule that because of Pioneer’s pre-permit construction, DES was required to deny the permit; (3) failed to consider the impact on the petitioner of granting the driveway setback waiver; and (4) reviewed the waiver of the driveway setback under an incorrect standard. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Old Dutch Mustard Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Respondents New Hampshire Fish & Game and the New Hampshire Council on Resources and Defelopment (CORD) appealed a superior court decision that granted summary judgment to petitioners Town of Newbury and Lake Sunapee Protective Association. Petitioners challenged CORD's decision to approve Fish & Game's design of a boat launch. The trial court held that CORD lacked authority to approve the launch because it was a class III public highway, and could not approve "new highway projects." Disagreeing with the trial court's interpretation of RSA 162-C:6, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Town of Newbury v. New Hampshire Fish & Game Dept." on Justia Law

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Petitioners Town of Newbury and Lake Sunapee Protective Association appealed a Wetlands Council decision. The Council upheld a grant by the Department of Environmental Services of a shoreland impact permit to respondent New Hampshire Fish & Game for the construction of a public boat launch with associated parking on the shore of Lake Sunapee. Petitioners contended it was error to uphold the Department's decision because the Department had violated two provisions of the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act with an unnecessary launch contrary to state law. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Lake Sunapee Protective Association" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Thomas Morrissey, Margaret Russell, Dorothy Sears, Reginald Rogers, Barbara Sanders and others appealed a ruling of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) Wetlands Council (Council) that affirmed the issuance by the Wetlands Bureau of a permit to respondent Town of Lynne. Petitioners argued that when issuing the wetlands permit, the Bureau and Council did not consider the total wetlands impact of the proposed project because they misinterpreted the scope of the Supreme Court's ruling in an earlier case. Agreeing that the Bureau misinterpreted the applicable statutes, and it did not consider the total wetlands impact of the proposed project, the Supreme Court vacated DES' decision and remanded the case to the Council for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Thomas Morrissey" on Justia Law

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In this declaratory judgment proceeding, the defendant, Citizens Insurance Company of America, appealed a superior court order which ruled in favor of the plaintiff, The Barking Dog, Ltd., which operates a dog kennel and grooming business at several locations in New Hampshire. The court ruled that an insurance policy issued by the defendant provided coverage for damage to the plaintiff’s septic system and ordered the defendant to pay the plaintiff $20,000, the agreed upon damage amount. The court also ruled that the defendant was not prejudiced by the plaintiff’s failure to disclose its expert’s report in a timely manner or its failure to disclose its expert’s curriculum vitae and, accordingly, permitted the plaintiff’s expert to testify at trial. The defendant argued that both rulings were error. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "The Barking Dog, Ltd. v. Citizens Insurance Company of America" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Town of Seabrook appealed an order of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) which granted Respondent NextEra Energy Seabrook, LLC (NextEra), several tax exemptions under RSA 72:12-a (Supp. 2011). Upon review of the record, the Supreme Court found that the record supported DES' decisions except for one: the Court found no evidence in the record to support an increase in a percentage allocation allowed under the statute. Accordingly, the Court partly affirmed, partly reversed the DES' decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Town of Seabrook " on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted an interlocutory appeal from the superior court that partially granted and partially denied the summary judgment motion filed by Defendants Lakes Region Water Company and Thomas Mason (collectively LRWC). The question before the Court was whether the superior court erred in concluding that Defendants were not exempt from the Consumer Protection Act to the extent that they allegedly misrepresented that the water they provided was safe for use and consumption. Answering in the affirmative, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s denial of partial summary judgment as to the claims of the plaintiffs Jo Anne Rainville, Carl Beher, Lisa Mullins d/b/a The Olde Village Store, and approximately fifty others, under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) which sought damages for alleged misrepresentations about the quality of water provided. View "Rainville v. Lakes Region Water Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jonathan Doyle appealed a superior court order that granted summary judgment to Defendants the Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development and the Monadnock State Park Manager (collectively, DRED), and that denied his motion for summary judgment. In 2009, Plaintiff staged a "Bigfoot" sighting (with himself dressed as Bigfoot) on Mount Monadnock. At the top of the mountain, he put on a costume, and filmed conversations he had with other hikers. On his way back down, he encountered two park staff members, and persuaded them to write a note saying there had been a "sighting" on the mountain. To garner publicity for his next appearance, Plaintiff had a friend write a press release for the local paper. Much to their annoyance, Park officials began fielding media calls trying to confirm whether reports of the sighting were true. When Plaintiff returned for more filming, he was confronted by park officials checking whether Plaintiff had a "special-use permit" to continue filming. With none, Plaintiff and his crew were asked to leave the mountain. Plaintiff subsequently brought a declaratory judgment action against DRED, arguing that Res 7306.01(a) violated the right to free speech contained in the New Hampshire Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. He also sought a permanent injunction, nominal damages, costs and fees. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of DRED, ruling that Plaintiff failed to show that Res 7306.01(a) was unconstitutional. On appeal, Plaintiff argued the trial court erred because Res 7306.01(a) was void for vagueness, overbroad on its face and not narrowly tailored, and also overbroad as applied to Plaintiff's small-scale project. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of DRED: "More troubling is that this regulation needlessly stifles political speech, an integral component to the operation of the system of government established by our Constitution." View "Doyle v. New Hampshire Dep't of Resources & Econ. Dev." on Justia Law

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Defendant Town of Madison Planning Board appealed and Plaintiffs Thomas and Margaret Ettinger cross-appealed a superior court's decision which held that a private session of the Board violated the state's Right-to-Know Law (RTK) and denied Plaintiffs' request for attorney fees. In June 2009, the Pomeroy Limited Partnership (Pomeroy) received conditional approval from the Board to convert the buildings on its property to a condominium ownership form and to convey part of the property to the Nature Conservancy. In January 2010, Plaintiffs, whose property abuts the Pomeroy property, requested a public hearing to allow them to challenge the approval of the condominium plan. The Board scheduled a public hearing for March 3, 2010, to consider whether to grant final approval of the Pomeroy application. Plaintiffs' attorney appeared at that hearing. At the scheduled time of the hearing, the Board went into a private session for thirty minutes in which they read emails from the Board's attorney, a memorandum that summarized legal advice and letters from Plaintiffs' attorney. The Board then reopened the hearing and then after hearing Plaintiffs' attorney on the matter, granted final approval of the Pomeroy application. Plaintiffs sued alleging the Board violated the RTK law. The superior court agreed that the private session violated the RTK law, but refused to invalidate the Board's approval of the Pomeroy application. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that while the Board's written communications from its counsel may be protected from disclosure under the RTK law, the meeting itself need not have been closed to the public. Further, the Court affirmed the trial court's denial of Plaintiffs' attorney fees: "[w]e cannot find that … the Board should have known that the nonpublic session violated the Right-to-Know Law" to therefore entitle them to fees. View "Ettinger v. Town of Madison Planning Board " on Justia Law