Justia Minnesota Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that the factual findings of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency were "insufficient to facilitate judicial review" of a permitting decision, holding that the Agency is not required under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401-7671q, and its applicable regulations to investigate allegations of "sham" permitting when a source first applies for a synthetic minor source permit.At issue was whether the Agency was required to investigate allegations of sham permitting when consider whether to approve the air-emissions permit of PolyMet Mining, Inc. for a proposed mine. Respondents challenged the Agency's decision to issue the synthetic minor source permit, asserting that the Agency failed to conduct an adequate investigation into whether PolyMet intended to operate within the limits of the permit or whether it was instead seeking a sham permit. The court of appeals concluded that the Agency's short response to the concerns of Respondents was not the "hard look" required under the Minnesota Administrative Procedure Act, Minn. Stat. 14.69. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the applicable federal regulations and guidance contemplate retrospective enforcement after the applicant has obtained a synthetic minor source permit and do not mandate prospective investigation. View "In re Issuance of Air Emissions Permit No. 13700345-101 for PolyMet Mining, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court holding that the adoption of a comprehensive plan is not a proper subject of a claim under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA), Minn. Stat. 116B.01-.13, holding that adoption of a comprehensive plan can be the subject of a MERA claim and that Appellants' allegations were sufficient to state a claim under MERA.This appeal centered a claim challenging the City of Minneapolis's 2040 Comprehensive Plan, alleging that the City's adoption of the Plan violated the state's environmental law. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that because comprehensive plans are specifically exempt from environmental review under Minn. R. 4410.4600, comprehensive plans are also exempt from judicial review under MERA. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) rule 4410.4600 does not exempt comprehensive plans from environmental review under MERA; and (2) the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, state a claim upon which relief can be granted. View "State by Smart Growth Minneapolis v. City of Minneapolis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that groundwater is a Class 1 water under Minnesota law and therefore subject to secondary drinking water standards promulgated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).In 2018, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System permit to United States Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel) governing U.S. Steel's Minntac Tailings Basin Area in Mountain Iron and setting a groundwater sulfate limit of 250 mg/L at the facility's boundary that U.S. Steel must meet by 2025. On appeal, U.S. Steel argued that the MPCA did not have the authority to impose the sulfate standard in the permit because the EPA's secondary drinking water standards apply only to bodies of water classified as Class 1 waters and that groundwater is not classified as Class 1. The court of appeals agreed and reversed the MPCA's decision. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) groundwater is a Class 1 water under Minnesota law; and (2) therefore, the MPCA correctly exercised its authority by applying the Class 1 secondary drinking water standards to the permit. View "In re Reissuance of NPDES/SDS Permit to United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law

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In this case brought by two associations against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) arising out of alleged mismanagement of the groundwater-appropriation permitting process, the Supreme Court held that the two associations stated a claim under Minn. Stat. 116B.03 and that one of the associations failed to state a claim under the public trust doctrine.Two associations brought this suit against the DNR, alleging violations of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act under section 116B.03 based on alleged pollution and impairment of White Bear Lake. The associations alleged that the DNR mismanaged the groundwater-appropriations permitting process, resulting in the lake's water levels reaching historic lows. One of the associations added a claim that the DNR had violated the common-law public trust doctrine. The district court found that the DNR had violated by section 116B.03 and the public trust doctrine. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals (1) erred in concluding that the associations did not state a claim under section 116B.03; and (2) did not err in concluding that the one association failed to state a claim under the public trust doctrine. View "White Bear Lake Restoration Ass'n, ex rel. State v. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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Reichmann Land and Cattle, LLP managed a winter feeding facility. In 2011, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued an administrative order requiring Reichmann to obtain national-pollutant-discharge-elimination-system (NPDES) and state-disposal-system (SDS) permits or discontinue the winter feeding operation. Reichmann requested a contested case hearing. An administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded that Reichmann’s winter feeding fields constituted a “concentrated animal feeding operation” and were not “pastures.” Therefore, Reichmann was required to apply for an NPDES/SDS permit. The Commissioner of the MPCA adopted the findings and conclusions of the ALJ. The court of appeals affirmed the Commissioner’s conclusion that Reichmann must apply for an SDS permit but reversed the Commission’s requirement that Reichmann must apply for an NPDES permit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Reichmann need not obtain an NPDES permit because its winter feeding facility is not an animal feeding operation as required by 40 C.F.R. 122.23(b)(1); and (2) Reichmann is required to obtain an SDS permit because it does not qualify for the pasture exemption. View "In re Reichmann Land & Cattle, LLP" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the State retained Covington & Burling, LLP (“Covington”) to represent it in a natural resource damages case against 3M Company (“3M”) involving the manufacture and disposal of perfluorochemicals, which are a subset of all fluorochemicals. In 2012, 3M moved to disqualify Covington as counsel for the State because Covington had previously represented 3M in legal and regulatory matters related to 3M’s fluorochemicals business from 1992 to 2006. The district court granted 3M’s disqualification motion. Both the State and Covington appealed. The court of appeals dismissed Covington’s appeal for lack of standing and affirmed the disqualification of Covington. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, holding (1) an attorney has standing to appeal when a district court finds that the attorney violated the rules of professional conduct and disqualifies the attorney from the representation, and therefore, Covington had standing to appeal the disqualification order; (2) the district failed to use the proper legal standard in disqualifying Covington under Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.9(a); and (3) remand was required to permit the district court to make the necessary factual findings and determine whether 3M waived the right to seek disqualification of Covington. View "State v. 3M Co." on Justia Law

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Appellants hired Respondent as the general contractor to build a seasonal residence on Appellant's property. Respondent purchased a general liability insurance policy from Midwest Family Mutual Insurance Company that included an absolute pollution exclusion. Respondent later purchased a boiler for Appellant's home that bore a label warning that the boiler was designed to run on natural gas only. Respondent connected the boiler to a liquid propane line. Appellants were later transported to hospital due to carbon monoxide poisoning from the boiler. Appellants brought litigation against Respondent. Midwest initiated a declaratory judgment action, requesting that the district court find Midwest had no duty to defend or indemnify Respondent because coverage was barred under the absolute pollution exclusion. The district court denied Midwest's motion for summary judgment, concluding that it would be inappropriate to rule as a matter of law that the absolute pollution exclusion barred coverage under the facts in this case since Respondent did not cause any environmental pollution. The court of appeals reversed, holding that carbon monoxide constitutes a pollutant in the Midwest policy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that carbon monoxide released from a negligently installed boiler is clearly a "pollutant" that is subject to the absolute pollution exclusion of the Midwest policy. View "Midwest Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Wolters" on Justia Law