Environmental -- 2017



Sciscoe v. Enbridge Gathering (North Texas), L.P.   (Texas Supreme Court)

Preemption of tort claims for permitted emissions

Residents near four natural-gas compressor stations and a metering station alleged that the stations interfere with their rights by creating noise and fumes. However, no equipment produces sounds audible offsite and there is no record evidence of any emissions violations. The district court granted a series of summary judgment motions and found in favor of the defendants. Plaintiffs appealed, and the court of appeals improperly revived the claims.

Plaintiffs seek to impose liability under vague common law tort theories as a method to control otherwise lawful activities, such as emissions already expressly permitted by federal and state regulatory agencies. The issue is whether the federal Clean Air Act and the Texas Clean Air Act preempt state tort claims for damages against facilities which lawfully operate in compliance with issued permits. Using state tort remedies as an alternative means to control air pollution creates liabilities that adversely influence investment, operations, and industrial growth.

The NAM submitted an amicus letter urging the court to grant review and clarify the respective roles of federal and state environmental authorities. Denying review would subject businesses to uncertain, unpredictable, unforeseeable and potentially unbearable liabilities which arise on a case-by-case basis in state tort suits, rather than specific regulatory requirements which permit rational and reliable business planning.

In May, 2016, the court asked the parties to filed briefs on the merits, although it had not granted the petition for review. On Jan. 20, 2017, the court agreed to hear this case.

On May 19, 2017, the court ruled that the case was barred by the two-year statute of limitations, The plaintiffs knew of the noise and odor as early as 2006, and any legal injury begain in 2008, but they did not sue until 2011. The court did not rule on the preemption issue.


Related Documents:
NAM brief  (November 9, 2015)

 


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