Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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Kor-Ko, Ltd. sought to overturn the Maryland Department of the Environment’s (MDE) grant of a construction permit to Maryland Crematory, LLC (MC) to operate a crematorium in the same commercial park building containing Kor-Ko’s business operations. Kor-Ko argued that the MDE failed to adequately consider the health of people within the park due to the emissions to the air from the operation of the crematorium. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the MDE’s issuance of the permit. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the MDE’s issuance of the permit to construct MC’s incinerator was permissible because (1) the MDE’s interpretation of “premises” as extending to the property line of the commercial park was free of legal error; and (2) the MDE’s application of the term vis-a-vis allowing the modeling of toxins at the property line was not arbitrary or capricious. View "Kor-Ko Ltd. v. Department of Environment" on Justia Law

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The Maryland Critical Area law establishes a cooperative program with local jurisdictions to ensure that land near Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic coastal bays has special protection against development that might cause environmental damage. Although the law allows a property owner to seek a variance, it places the burden of proof on the applicant to demonstrate that the applicant would suffer an “unwarranted hardship” without the variance and that granting the variance will not have an adverse environmental impact. Schwalbach sought a variance from a Worcester County ordinance that limits piers to 100 feet in length, in order to access navigable water from his waterfront property in a community where piers and boating are common. Schwalbach obtained necessary federal, state, and local environmental agency approvals. The County Board of Zoning Appeals granted the variance. The Circuit Court, the Court of Special Appeals, and the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the approval.Schwalbach was not required to show that he would be denied all reasonable and significant use of his land without the variance, but rather that he would be denied a reasonable and significant use throughout the entire property. There was sufficient evidence to conclude that Schwalbach satisfied that standard and the standard that there be no adverse environmental impact from granting the variance. View "Assateague Coastal Trust v. Schwalbach" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case were municipal separate storm sewer system discharge permits the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) most recently issued to several counties and one city (collectively, the Counties). Multiple organizations challenged the permits in several respects, including (1) the requirement to restore impervious surface area, (2) the requirement to submit plans for total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), (3) the monitoring requirements, and (4) the public’s ability to participate in the development of the permits. The Supreme Court upheld the MDE’s decision to issue the permits on all grounds, holding (1) the MDE’s decision to include a twenty percent restoration requirement in the permits was supported by substantial evidence and was not arbitrary and capricious; (2) the MDE’s requirement that the Counties submit plans for all Environmental Protection Agency-approved TMDLs one year after the issuance of the permits complied with 40 C.F.R. 122.44(d)(1)(vii)(B); (3) the MDE’s monitoring scheme is sufficient to comply with the applicable federal regulations; and (4) the permits satisfy public participation requirements. View "Dep’t of Env’t v. Anacostia Riverkeeper" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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In 2009, Respondents, residents of the Jacksonville community, were awarded damages by a jury for an Exxon contractor's puncture of an underground gasoline feed line at an Exxon Mobil-owned gasoline service station. Several thousand gallons of gasoline leaked into the local underground aquifer and contaminated the source of the wells supplying water to Respondents' households. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the damages award and ordered all costs to be paid pro rata by Respondents. Respondents subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration. Exxon responded with an amended request for bond premium costs seeking reimbursement. The Supreme Court denied the motion for reconsideration and Exxon's request but changed the mandate in Ford to order that the parties shall bear their own costs, concluding that requiring Respondents to bear $1 million in premium bond costs was unreasonable under the circumstances. View "Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Ford" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was a waterman with a commercial license to harvest clams. As Petitioner was clamming in 2011, a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) police sargeant cited Petitioner for using a hydraulic claim dredge (HCD) in a submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) protection zone in violation of Md. Code Nat. Res. 4-1006.1(e)(3). The district court later convicted Petitioner of violating section 4-1006.1 and imposed a criminal fine and costs. The circuit court, sitting as an appellate court, affirmed. Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, contending that he could not be prosecuted for using the HCD in the SAV zone because DNR failed to fulfill its obligation under section 4-1006.1(e)(3) to "publish, by public notice, delineations of SAV protection zones and revisions to SAV protection zones." The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a violation of section 4-1006.1 is not a strict liability crime, and a prosecution for using an HCD in an SAV zone can only be maintained if the State establishes that DNR complied with section 4-1006.1(e)(3); and (2) in the instant case, the State failed to prove that DNR complied with section 4-1006.1(e)(3), and therefore, Petitioner's conviction could not stand. View "Lowery v. State" on Justia Law

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Dozens of Jacksonville, Maryland households (Respondents) brought suit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for damages from an underground gasoline leak from an Exxon-owned gasoline service station that leaked approximately 26,000 gallons into the underground aquifer and contaminated wells supplying water to a number of households. Respondents sought compensatory and punitive damages based on allegations of fraudulent concealment, strict liability, trespass, punitive nuisance, and negligence. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Exxon with respect to the fraudulent concealment and punitive damages claims but found in favor of Respondents as to all other claims for compensatory damages. Exxon appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the awards for complete diminution of property value, damages for emotional distress, and damages for future medical monitoring costs. The court of special appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, reducing the $147 million in damages awarded to Respondents by more than half. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgments in favor of Respondents for diminution in property value, emotional distress, and medical monitoring, holding that the evidence was insufficient to support to the awards for these claims. Remanded. View "Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Ford" on Justia Law

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In 2006, Exxon Mobil Corporation reported a leak of approximately 26,000 gallons of gasoline from the underground tanks at its fueling station in Jacksonville, Maryland. Hundreds of residents and business proprietors of Jacksonville (Appellees) subsequently filed suit against Exxon for damages stemming from the contamination of their water supply, other consequential effects, and alleged misrepresentations by Exxon. The jury awarded $496,210,570 in compensatory damages and $1,045,550,000 in punitive damages for Appellees. Exxon appealed both damages awards as to all recovering Appellees. The Court of Appeals (1) reversed the judgments in favor of all Appellees for fraud, emotional distress for fear of contracting cancer, medical monitoring, and emotional distress for fear of loss of property value, holding that Appellees did not prove by clear and convincing evidence Exxon's liability as to these claims; and (2) reversed the judgments for loss of use and enjoyment and for diminution in value of real property in favor of certain Appellees and affirmed as to the others. View "Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Albright" on Justia Law

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This was an action for judicial review to determine whether the Maryland Board of Public Works committed legal error in denying, by a two-to-one vote, Respondent's application for a license to fill and dredge on certain State wetlands. The circuit court concluded that the Board did err, by basing its decision on considerations outside the lawful scope of its discretion, and reversed the Board's decision. The Court of Appeals vacated the circuit court's judgment and remanded with instructions to vacate the Board's decision and remand the case to the Board, holding that the Board, through its majority vote, committed legal error by basing its decision on factors outside the scope of its authority and discretion. View "Bd. of Pub. Works v. K. Hovanian's Four Seasons" on Justia Law

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Woodmore Towne Centre applied for a non-tidal wetlands permit to construct a road extension and stream crossing in order to provide primary access into a development. After the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) approved the permit, Patuxent Riverkeeper, a nonprofit environmental group, initiated a judicial review action against MDE and Woodmore. The circuit court dismissed the action for lack of standing. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Riverkeeper had standing under Md. Code Ann. Envir. 5-204(f) to initiate a judicial review action because one of its members had alleged sufficient harm to his aesthetic, recreational, and economic interests in connection with the issuance of the non-tidal wetlands permit at issue. View "Patuxent Riverkeeper v. Dep't of Env't" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, Douglas and Vanessa Wietzke, filed a four-count complaint against the Chesapeake Conference Association of Seventh-Day Adventists (the Church), alleging nuisance, trespass, and negligence in connection with the construction of a new parking lot by the Church. The Wietzkes claimed the lot was the cause of continued flooding of their home and requested damages and injunctive relief. The circuit court granted the Church's motion for judgment on the negligence claim then entered judgment in favor of the Church on the nuisance and trespass claims. The court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals granted certiorari to answer several questions, most of which related to the trial judge's denial of several of the Wietzkes' requested jury instructions. The Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Wietzke's proposed jury instructions, (2) the model jury instructions requiring a finding of unreasonable conduct in a private nuisance action were a correct exposition of the law, and (3) the trial court erred in granting the Church's motion for judgment on the Wietzkes' negligence claim as the evidence could have supported a negligence claim. View "Wietzke v. Chesapeake Conference Ass'n" on Justia Law