Articles Posted in U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals

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Ownership of the Somerville property has changed many times. It has been used for manufacturing, for machining military parts during World War II, and as warehouses for commercial and industrial tenants, including JANR. The soil and the groundwater became contaminated, likely beginning in the 1940s, when a degreasing agent was dumped on the ground. Contamination worsened after 1983 when improper storage of hazardous waste in the JANR warehouse resulted in spills and leaks. Remedial actions may have contributed to the contamination. The current owner acquired the site in the 1980s. After several earlier suits concerning the contamination, the owner sued a former owner and the United States under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6972, and the New Jersey Sanitary Landfill Facility Closure Act and Contingency Fund. The district court entered summary judgment rejecting the RCRA claim, held a trial, and determined that the owner, the prior owners, and the United States were each liable for costs of remediation under CERCLA and the Spill Act and allocated percentages. The Third Circuit vacated with respect to award of prejudgment interest and the RCRA claim against the former owners, but otherwise affirmed. View "Litgo NJ, Inc. v. Comm'r NJ Dep't Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law

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The mall is bounded by a railroad track and drainage ditches owned by CSX. Houses beyond the track are higher than the track, which is higher than the mall. CSX’s predecessor installed a berm, straddling the property line, to prevent storm water from flowing onto the mall property. In 2010 storm water breached the berm. Runoff and debris from CSX’s property flowed down the slope and overwhelmed a private storm water inlet in the mall parking lot. CSX assured mall representatives that it planned a ditch to resolve the problem, but, instead, began constructing a spillway on the mall side of the berm to direct storm water into the mall’s drainage inlet. The mall manager discovered and immediately halted the work. The mall claimed negligence and continuing trespass. During discovery, the mall learned that CSX had refurbished the relevant portion of the track and argued that the modifications led to the discharge onto its property and that the discharge was evidence that CSX had violated, 49 C.F.R. 213.33, enacted under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The district court granted CSX summary judgment, holding that the claims were blocked by the FRSA preemption provision. The Third Circuit vacated, noting the “constrained scope” of FRSA preemption. View "MD Mall Assocs. v. CSX Transp., Inc" on Justia Law

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Interstate requested approval for nine outdoor advertising signs along U.S. Interstate-295, a major transportation corridor. The township then adopted an ordinance prohibiting billboards. The district court dismissed a constitutional challenge. The Third Circuit affirmed. A reasonable fact-finder could not conclude that there was an insufficient basis for the township’s conclusion that its billboard ban would directly advance its stated goal of improving the aesthetics of the community. The fact that Interstate will not be able to reach the distinct audience of travelers that it desires to target does not mean that adequate alternative means of communication do not exist. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that complete billboard bans may be the only reasonable means by which a legislature can advance its interests in traffic safety and aesthetics. View "Interstate Outdoor Advertising, L.P. v. Zoning Bd., Twp of Mount Laurel" on Justia Law

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First Korean Church alleged that the township violated its First Amendment right to religious freedom, its Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection, and its rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 by preventing First Korean from using its property as a church and seminary. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the township. The Third Circuit affirmed. View "First Korean Church of NY, Inc. v. Cheltenham Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd." on Justia Law

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In 1987, Waterfront purchased 5.3 acres in Philadelphia’s Central Riverfront District, zoned G-2 industrial. In exchange for rezoning to C-4 commercial, for a mixed-use, high-rise project, Waterfront agreed to restrictive covenants. When financing became possible in 2005, Waterfront obtained a permit for demolishing existing structures and constructing a 28-story apartment tower and entered into a financing agreement with a construction start date of February 2006. Waterfront had to postpone construction. In March 2006, the city extended to the site a zoning overlay with a height restriction of 65 feet and a width restriction of 70 feet. Waterfront alleged mistake; that the area councilman admitted that inclusion of the site was a mistake; and that Mayor Street stated that he would not have signed it had he known that the height restriction applied to the site. Waterfront unsuccessfully sought repeal, but never applied for a permit under the ordinance and did not seek a variance. Waterfront filed suit. In 2010 the city rescinded application of the height restriction. The district court held that the rescission mooted federal constitutional claims, denied Waterfront’s motion to amend to attack the width restriction, and granted the city summary judgment on all other claims. The Third Circuit affirmed. View "CMR D.N. Corp. v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, a state agency which owned a leasehold interest in the East Hall, also known as “Historic Boardwalk Hall”, on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, was tasked with restoring it. After learning of the market for federal historic rehabilitation tax credits (HRTCs) among corporate investors, and of the additional revenue which that market could bring to the state through a syndicated partnership with one or more investors, NJSEA created Historic Boardwalk Hall, LLC (HBH) and sold a membership interest to a subsidiary of Pitney Bowes. Transactions admitting PB as a member of HBH and transferring ownership of East Hall to HBH were designed so that PB could earn the HRTCs generated from the East Hall rehabilitation. The IRS determined that HBH was simply a vehicle to impermissibly transfer HRTCs from NJSEA to PB and that all HRTCs taken by PB should be reallocated to NJSEA. The Tax Court disagreed. The Third Circuit reversed. PB, in substance, was not a bona fide partner in HBH. View "Historic Boardwalk Hall, LLC v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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The ordinance prohibits posting signs on utility poles, streetlights, sign posts, and trees in a public right-of-way. At the time their actions were brought, plaintiffs were both candidates for political office in an area of the city that contains "a classic urban landscape of row house neighborhoods, where most homes have no front yard." They claimed that, given their limited funds, they would have ordinarily relied heavily on signs posted on street poles to spread their political messages. Several political candidates received numerous tickets. The district court ruled in favor of the city. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting claims that the ordinance violated the First, Fourteenth, and Twenty-Fourth Amendments. Plaintiffs conceded that the ordinance is content-neutral. It is narrowly tailored to serve significant governmental interests and leaves open ample alternatives for communication. View "Johnson v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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The four-acre parcel is within the watershed of the Sawmill, which flows into the Smyrna River, then into the Delaware Estuary and to Delaware Bay. The Sawmill becomes tidal 2.5 miles from the property. In 1987, the Army Corps of Engineers categorized the site as wetlands, concluded that ¾ of an acre had been filled, and warned the owner that a permit was required to fill more than one acre. In 1993, the Corps found that he had continued to fill without a permit and ordered removal of 0.771 acres of fill or submission of a pre-discharge notification. In 1996, the government sued, under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1311(a). In 2006, the court entered judgment, imposing a $250,000 fine and requiring removal of 0.771 acres of fill. The Third Circuit remanded, in light of the 2006 Supreme Court decision, Rapanos v. U.S. On remand, the government presented expert evidence; the owner submitted an affidavit based on personal knowledge. The court granted the government summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the Corps has jurisdiction only over wetlands adjacent to navigable-in-fact waters. There is no genuine issue of Corps' jurisdiction; nothing in the affidavit addressed the effect on the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of downstream waters.

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From the 1930s until 1982, NL manufactured pigments on 440 acres surrounded by the Raritan River. NL later leased to manufacturers of sulfuric acid, until 2005, when a redevelopment agency acquired the site by eminent domain. NL had entered into an administrative consent order with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, requiring NL to investigate and perform remediation. The state had identified other sources of contamination and suggested a regional approach, but no action was taken. The redevelopment agreement provided that NL would retain liability for contamination of river sediments, but does not call for any remediation. In 2009, the U.S. EPA ordered remediation of river sediments upstream from the site. Shortly thereafter, plaintiffs filed citizens suits under RCRA, 42 U.S.C. 6972(a)(1)(B), and CWA, 33 U.S.C. 1365(a)(1). The district court dismissed, concluding that abstention was appropriate. The Third Circuit vacated, noting that the state has not taken action with respect to the contamination.

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The Forest Service manages the surface of the Allegheny National Forest, but most mineral rights are privately owned. From 1980 until recently the Service cooperated with owners to manage drilling; owners would provide advance notice and the Service would issue a Notice to Proceed. As a result of a settlement with environmental groups, the Service changed its policy and postponed issuance of NTPs until a multi-year, Environmental Impact Study under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 42 U.S.C. 4332(C)) is complete. The district court issued a preliminary injunction against the Service, requiring it to return to its prior process. The Third Circuit affirmed. The Service does not have the broad authority it claims over private mineral rights owners' access to surface lands. Its special use regulations do not apply to outstanding rights; the limited regulatory scheme applicable to most reserved rights in the ANF does not impose a permit requirement. Although the Service is entitled to notice, and may request and negotiate accommodation of its state-law right to due regard, its approval is not required for surface access. The moratorium causes irreparable injury to owners by depriving them of unique oil and gas extraction opportunities.