Author: Paul M. Hauge

No Need to Wait: Supreme Court Permits Judicial Review of Wetlands Jurisdictional Determinations

As we reported, four years ago, in Sackett v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a recipient of a compliance order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allegedly illegal filling of wetlands could directly challenge the order in court, and did not have to wait until EPA filed a lawsuit to enforce the order before obtaining judicial review of its validity. In a recent opinion the Court extended the rationale of Sackett and again lowered the threshold of judicial reviewability, holding that a landowner can seek judicial review of a mere determination by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) that its property contains wetlands whose filling would require a permit under the Clean Water Act.

Supreme Court Will Decide Whether State Can Face Liability Under Spill Act

The New Jersey Supreme Court has decided to hear the State’s appeal of a September 2015 Appellate Division decision that held the State potentially liable for cleanup costs at the Raritan Bay Slag Site. As we reported last fall, the Appellate Division held in NL Industries, Inc. v. State of New Jersey that the Spill Compensation and Control Act, which imposes liability upon both dischargers of hazardous substances and on parties “in any way responsible” for the hazardous substances, is applicable to the State. Under the Appellate Division’s ruling, the State could bear liability for all or some of the cleanup costs related to a seawall that was constructed using contaminated materials. The suit alleges that the State should be held liable because it owned the land under the seawall, approved its construction, issued a riparian grant to the developer that sought to build it, and issued a permit for it.

No Safe Harbor: State Can Face Liability Under Spill Act

Be careful what you wish for. That may be the message of the Appellate Division’s September 23 opinion in NL Industries, Inc. v. State of New Jersey, No. A-0869-14T3. Affirming a “thoughtful and erudite” 2014 Law Division opinion by Judge Douglas K. Wolfson, the appellate court held that the onerous liability regime of the 1976 Spill Compensation and Control Act (commonly known as the Spill Act), which imposes strict, joint, and several liability for cleanups on both the dischargers of hazardous substances and on the much broader class of parties “in any way responsible” for the hazardous substances, is equally applicable to the State. As a result, the State may be responsible for a portion of the remediation of a contaminated site on the shoreline of Raritan Bay that will likely cost more than $75 million.

Turnpike Authority is Not a “Local Government Unit”: Tax Court

All politics, the saying goes, is local. Not so with government, according to a recent decision from New Jersey’s Tax Court. In an opinion that teaches more about legislative drafting than it does about tax policy, the court in New Jersey Turnpike Authority v. Township of Monroe parsed a complex definition of “local government unit” in the Garden State Preservation Trust Act (GSPTA). It held that the New Jersey Turnpike Authority did not come within that definition, and thus could not claim that status to obtain an exemption from roll-back taxes on a parcel it purchased in 2009.

New York Court of Appeals Upholds Municipal Authority to Ban Fracking

New York’s highest court dealt a blow to the hydrofracking industry on June 30 when it upheld, in a consolidated opinion in Matter of Wallach v. Town of Dryden and Cooperstown Holstein Corp. v. Town of Middlefield, the authority of municipalities to use their zoning powers to ban hydrofracking. The Court of Appeals held that provisions on the towns’ zoning ordinances that prohibited hydrofracking anywhere within their borders were not preempted by the “supersession clause” of the state’s Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law (OGSML). That clause, said the Court, prevents municipalities from regulating the “how” of hydrofracking but does not bar them from limiting “where” it can take place.

New Jersey Supreme Court Holds That Claimants in Continuous-Trigger Environmental Coverage Cases Must Exhaust Policy Limits of Solvent Carriers Before Seeking Payment From Fund for Insolvent Carriers

Almost twenty years after establishing a methodology for allocating remediation costs among insurance policies in so-called “long-tail” cases, the New Jersey Supreme Court was faced with a new question: what happens when one of the insurers is insolvent? Applying a 2004 statutory amendment and interpreting it as reversing the result in a 1997 Appellate Division case, the Court held, in Farmers Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Salem v. New Jersey Property-Liability Insurance Guaranty Association that in such a case the policy limits of all solvent carriers must be exhausted before a claimant can recover any benefits from a special statutory fund created to stand in the place of insolvent insurers. The decision has important ramifications for corporations with complex insurance programs and potential environmental issues regarding sites where contamination may have been present over many years.

The Price Must Be Right: U.S. Supreme Court Extends “Nexus” and “Rough Proportionality” Requirements to Monetary Exactions Linked to Development Proposals

It has long been the law that regulators may not condition the grant of a land-use permit on the owner’s relinquishment of an interest in the property unless there is both a “nexus” and “rough proportionality” between the government’s demand and the effects of the proposed land use. In a case that may have been overlooked amidst several landmark decisions handed down in the same week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that these requirements also apply to monetary exactions.

In Clean Water Act Case, Three Justices Invite Future Challenge to Rule of Deference to Agencies in Interpretation of Their Own Regulations

A victory in the Supreme Court is generally welcome news for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But, the Court’s decision last month in a Clean Water Act case may foreshadow a sweeping change in administrative law that would certainly not please EPA or other agencies: the end of a long-standing rule of judicial deference to agencies in the interpretation of their own regulations.

May I Come In?: N.J. Supreme Court Approves Warrantless DEP Searches of Residential Property Subject to Freshwater Wetlands Permit

In a unanimous decision that was at once sweeping and limited, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) need not obtain a warrant before entering a residential parcel to ensure compliance with the terms of a wetlands permit. The Court stopped short of a blanket validation of all warrantless searches under the wetlands statute, or of all warrantless searches of residential property subject to any sort of permit, instead grounding its holding in the protections afforded by the process that DEP must follow, and limiting it to searches of properties that are subject to a wetlands permit.

Appellate Court Upholds NJDEP “Waiver Rule”

In a decision that gives the green light to an important component of the Christie Administration’s “Common Sense Principles” approach to regulation, the Appellate Division has upheld the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) “waiver rule,” which permits the department to waive strict compliance with many of its regulations in defined circumstances. Full implementation of the rule will have to wait, however, as the Appellate Court invalidated a variety of forms and guidance documents that NJDEP had posted on its website without going through the normal rulemaking process required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).