Environmental -- 2014



Freeman v. Grain Processing Corp.   (Iowa Supreme Court)

Whether public nuisance claim is preempted by EPA regulation of factory emissions

Eight residents of Muscatine, Iowa, sued a local corn milling plant alleging trespass, nuisance and negligence from pollutants and odors from the plant. The trial court dismissed the claims as being preempted by the Clean Air Act (CAA), Iowa law, and the political question doctrine. That decision was appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The NAM, along with 5 other manufacturing associations, filed an amicus brief supporting the trial court's decision on preemption and political question. Manufacturers are already subject to a complex system of state and federal regulations, and adding common-law tort liability on top of that will further undermine the ability to create jobs and compete. We argued that courts are not equipped to properly handle cases like this, because they require clear and manageable standards for imposing liability, and such standards involve policy judgments that can only properly be developed by legislative and regulatory bodies with the investigative resources and technical and scientific expertise necessary. In addition, the executive and legislative branches of government are authorized to set and adjust standards and rules to guide the regulated community, and they are much better able to consider the views of many more affected parties, including a variety of scientific and economic experts, to revisit their policy choices on a regular basis, and to develop a consistent policy for everyone, not a piece-meal policy that depends on the court or state in which the case occurs.

On June 13, 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed the trial court decision and found that the CAA does not either expressly or impliedly preempt state emissions laws nor preclude a right of action brought under those laws. The Court also stated that several clauses in the CAA reserve for private citizens the power to bring public nuisance claims. Unless a state law or common law right of action is expressly preempted by federal statute, courts are reluctant to apply the preemption doctrine to state causes of action. The Court also found that the Iowa environmental statute did not preempt the plaintiffs’ claims because it too reserved the right to bring a public nuisance claim. Rejecting the political question argument, the court found that no constitutional controversy existed, tort claims are typically not precluded under the political question doctrine, and resolution of the controversy did not require a policy decision by another branch of government.

Claims based on nuisance theories of liability continue to be somewhat of a wild card for the regulation of plant emissions. Manufacturers continue to seek a rational regulatory system where the rules are clear and the potential liabilities are predictable and manageable.


Related Documents:
NAM amicus brief  (October 10, 2013)

 

Grain Processing Corp. v. Freeman   (U.S. Supreme Court)

Whether public nuisance claim is preempted by EPA regulation of factory emissions

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a group of Iowa residents could sue a local corn milling plant for trespass, nuisance and negligence from pollutants and odors emanating from the plant, in spite of the fact that the emissions are regulated by the EPA and the company is in full compliance with its permits. That decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. This case represents a serious emerging problem for manufacturers. The appeal in a similar case was declined by the Court earlier this year.

Our brief, joined by 6 other national associations, urged the Supreme Court to hear this appeal. We argued that this case presents an ideal opportunity to resolve whether public nuisance claims under state law are preempted by the Clean Air Act. There are serious conflicts between the federal courts of appeals and within state courts concerning this preemption issue. The issue is important because public nuisance litigation threatens one of the Clean Air Act's most important methods of pollution control -- permitting. Permits specify clear standards that guarantee certainty, predictability, and evenhandedness to the regulated community, and allowing public nuisance litigation threatens to substitute ad hoc decisions for considered regulatory policy, a result completely at odds with the goals and purposes of the Clean Air Act.

On December 1, 2014, the Court declined to review this appeal.


Related Documents:
NAM amicus brief  (October 14, 2014)

 


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