The Horne Case and the Public Trust in Wildlife

by John Echeverria | April 29, 2015

Who could have imagined that the takings case of Horne v Department of Agriculture argued in the Supreme Court last week might portend revival of the doctrine of public trust ownership of wildlife?  But it might. Really.

The Horne case involves a claim that an arcane raisin-marketing program administered by the Department of Agriculture effects a taking by requiring raisin growers, in certain years, to turn over a portion of their crop to the government in order to keep raisin prices high.   While there are several issues presented and lurking in the case, the central question is whether takings claims based on government seizures or other “appropriations” of personal property are governed by a per se rule. The Petitioners’ case rests on persuading the Court to apply a per se rule because they declined, for better or for worse, to present an alternative takings claim resting on the multi-factor Penn Central analysis.  In the oral argument, a majority of the Court seemed persuaded that the raisin-marketing program was “ridiculous” and that some ground should be found for calling it a taking.

However, based on logic and precedent, the Petitioners still have a steep uphill climb. The Court has indicated that appropriations of real property are governed by a per se rule, but it has never held that a per se rule applies to government seizures of personal property. In other words, the Court has declined to accept, at least so far, that government seizures of personal property, as a category, are ...

Urban Parks and the Public Trust Doctrine: A Pending New York Lawsuit and Its Implications

by Joel Mintz | April 22, 2015
Urban parks are a much-prized resource. They provide city dwellers with safe places to relax, walk their dogs, supervise their children at play, plant gardens, contemplate nature, pursue recreational activities, and escape the multiple stresses of urban life. At the same time, however, particularly in prosperous cities where open land is scarce and real estate values are high and growing ever-higher, some urban parks are under threat. Where they feel they can find legal avenues to do so, developers who ...

The Importance of the Murray Energy Case and Administrative Procedure

by Emily Hammond | April 21, 2015
Last week, the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument on a highly unusual attempt to short-circuit EPA’s rulemaking process for greenhouse gas regulation of existing power plants.  Despite statutory and constitutional hurdles to premature litigation, the petitioners—the coal-fired industry and coal-producing states—argued that the importance of the proposed rule justifies court intervention. The rule’s importance is precisely why it is critical that the agency complete the administrative process. That industry groups will file lawsuits over EPA’s greenhouse gas initiatives is unremarkable.  ...

The Stuff of an 'Extraordinary Writ' or a Hum-drum Administrative Law Case?

by Kirsten Engel | April 20, 2015
Reflections on the April 16th Oral Argument in Murray v. EPA and West Virginia v. EPA In a rulemaking there is a provision for judicial review, right, it’s not going to be a question that’s avoided . . . when the rule comes out, it’s going to be challenged, we’re going to get to it.  Why in the world would we resort to an extraordinary writ, which we have never used before?  So it really is quite unusual. -  Judge Griffiths, remarking on ...

Corporate Violence as Crime

by Rena Steinzor | January 09, 2015
A year ago, about 300,000 people in and around Charleston, West Virginia, lost their drinking water source when thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical known as MCHM (4-methylcyclohexanemethanol) leaked into the nearby Elk River through a hole in a rusted-out storage tank. Last month, the wheels of justice began to catch up with the owners of the responsible company when they were indicted by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.  Coincidentally, the West Virginia indictments came down on the same day ...

Why Not Jail?

by Matt Shudtz | December 16, 2014
When 29 miners died at Upper Big Branch or 11 workers died on the Deepwater Horizon, when 64 people died from tainted steroids, or when hundreds got Salmonella poisoning from peanut butter, did you ask yourself, 'Why not send the people responsible to jail?' You're not the only one. In her new book, Why Not Jail: Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction, CPR President Rena Steinzor asks the same question and concludes: The criminal justice system is as important ...

The Death of Deference?

by Daniel Farber | November 26, 2014
Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted cert. in several cases to hear the following question: “Whether the Environmental Protection Agency unreasonably refused to consider costs in determining whether it is appropriate to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by electric utilities.” The fundamental issue is whether it was unreasonable for EPA to interpret section 112 to preclude consideration of cost at this particular stage of the regulatory process — not only different from what the Court thinks is the best interpretation, but a position ...

Why I Wrote This Book: Why Not Jail?

by Rena Steinzor | November 17, 2014
I have spent 38 years in Washington, D.C. as a close observer of the regulatory system, specifically the government’s efforts to protect public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. The system’s a mess. Regulatory failure has become so acute that we truly are frozen in a paradox. On one hand, people expect the government to ensure that air and water are clean, workers don’t die on the job for avoidable reasons, food is safe, and drugs are efficacious. ...

Blankenship Indictment 'An Example for Every Prosecutor in the Country'

by Rena Steinzor | November 13, 2014
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has set an example for every prosecutor in the country by indicting Don Blankenship, the venal, punitive, flamboyant, and reckless former CEO of Massey Energy. For years, Blankenship demanded updates on coal production every two hours and, the indictment reveals, browbeat senior managers to cut cost and violate crucial safety.  In one handwritten note, he told one such target, “You have a kid to feed.  Do your job.”  When the Upper Big Branch mine exploded, propelling ...

For Attorney General, A Tough Prosecutor

by Matthew Freeman | October 14, 2014
In an op-ed published in The Hill on Friday, CPR President Rena Steinzor makes the case that in appointing a successor to Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama needs to find a prosecutor tough enough to go after corporate malfeasance with more than a series of comparatively weak deferred prosecution agreements. She writes, Of course, prosecutors can’t send corporations to jail — they are inanimate paper entities. But forcing them to acknowledge that they broke criminal laws is more than ...

A Blow to Public Interest Litigation

by Daniel Farber | September 18, 2014
A Texas judge's award of attorney fees is a threat to all public interest groups, liberal or conservative. A couple of weeks ago, a federal district judge in Texas awarded over $6 million in attorneys’ fees against the Sierra Club.  Sierra Club had survived motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, only to lose at trial. The court awarded fees on the ground that the suit was frivolous. The combination of rulings — denying summary judgment but then calling a lawsuit frivolous ...

D.C. Circuit Vacates FERC Smart Grid “Demand Response” Rule

by Joel Eisen | May 30, 2014
Last Friday (May 23), in Electric Power Supply Association v. FERC, a D.C. Circuit panel split 2-1 and vacated Order 745, a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rule designed to promote “demand response” (DR). DR is a rapidly growing and valuable means of reducing electricity demand, thereby benefiting consumers and the environment. It is also an important part of the Smart Grid, in which smart meters and devices that communicate with one another and energy service providers can further promote these goals. ...

CPR Member Scholars to Congress: Judicial Review Provisions of CFTC Reauthorization Bill Need Another Look

by James Goodwin | May 20, 2014
Yesterday, CPR Member Scholars sent a letter to House Representatives about their concerns with Section 212 of H.R. 4413, the Consumer Protection and End-User Relief Act.  This provision would add a new Section 24 to the Commodity Exchange Act, establishing specific requirements for judicial review of rules adopted by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).  H.R. 4413 is on the short list for a floor vote in House. As the letter explains, several aspects of Section 212 “raise significant problems.”  ...

CPR Submits Comments on FDA's Proposed Generics Labeling Rule

by James Goodwin | March 10, 2014
If you’re harmed by an improperly labeled prescription drug you’ve taken, should your ability to hold the manufacturer accountable in court depend on whether that drug was “name brand” or “generic”? Strangely, it does matter, thanks to the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Pilva v. Mensing. There, the Court held that because of a quirk in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations, generic drug manufacturers were shielded against plaintiffs’ state tort law failure-to-warn claims that alleged that a ...

The Lost World of Administrative Law

by Daniel Farber | March 05, 2014
The regulatory process has become more opaque and less accountable. We need to fix that. Every year, thousands of law students take a course in administrative law.  It’s a great course, and we wish even more students took it.  But there’s a risk that students may come away with a vision of the regulatory process that is increasingly disconnected with reality.  Worse, the leading judicial opinions on the subject suggest that judges may suffer from a similar disconnect. The Administrative ...

Chemical Industry takes Aim at Citizen Suits with 'Reform' Bill

by Sidney Shapiro | February 07, 2014
The recent chemical spill disaster in West Virginia has brought into sharp focus the weak measures we have in place for safeguarding people and the environment against exposures to harmful chemicals.  State and civil justice systems have helped to fill the resulting void by providing individuals who have suffered harmful exposures with an opportunity to hold accountable any people or corporations responsible for the chemical by seeking reasonable compensation for their injuries.  It’s often difficult to win these cases, and ...

Senate Republicans against DC Circuit Court nominees: talking through their hats

by Sidney Shapiro | October 30, 2013
This week, it was reported that Senate Democrats plan to force a vote to confirm one judicial nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals if Republican Senators continue to block the nominee’s confirmation. Patricia Ann Millett, who has worked for Democratic and Republican administrations in the past, is the contested candidate.  Although the circuit court has three vacancies, the Republicans oppose a vote because they say the D.C. Court of Appeals has too many judges. Senator Jefferson Sessions, for example, ...

Death of a Statute: The Kiobel Ruling

by John Knox | April 19, 2013
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ended a generation of human rights litigation in the United States by holding, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, that the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) does not apply to actions occurring in foreign countries. The ATS allows plaintiffs to sue in federal courts for torts committed in violation of international law and, since 1980, plaintiffs have used it for claims of grave human rights violations, such as torture, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killing, and even genocide, ...

Access to the Courts

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, many conservatives argue that markets are self-correcting, and that manufacturers who produce shoddy products or that pollute the environment quickly lose customers and go out of business. They're wrong. Americans need access to the courts so they can hold corner-cutting corporations accountable for the harm they cause.

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