Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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In 2003, William Hueble purchased 220 acres of farming and hunting property in Greenwood County. At the time of closing, the seller informed Hueble that Respondent Eric Vaughn, a corporal for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), had a personal deer stand on the property and had hunted there in the past. The seller indicated it would be a "good idea" to allow Vaughn continued access. Hueble declined the suggestion. During 2004, Hueble received a call from the seller informing him that Vaughn had recently been on the property and left four wheeler tracks. The seller again suggested that it would be in Hueble's "best interest" to allow Vaughn to hunt on the property, and provided Vaughn's phone number to Hueble. Hueble once again declined the suggestion and did not contact Vaughn. Hueble then acquired additional land and invested substantial sums of money to improve and maintain his property for hunting dove. More than one month prior to the opening day of dove season, Hueble believed the field was non-baited and in compliance with all regulations and guidelines. On opening day, Hueble's friends and family joined him for the first hunt of the season. Shortly into the hunt, Vaughn and other DNR officers entered Hueble's property unannounced. Vaughn and the DNR officers gathered the hunters together and began threatening them with fines and confiscation of property for baiting the dove field. Vaughn dug into Hueble's property with a knife blade to produce seeds and claimed that one seed constituted baiting a field. During this interaction, Hueble learned Vaughn was the DNR officer the seller had mentioned. Ultimately, Hueble was the only hunter charged by DNR with baiting the field. Hueble ultimately pled no contest to the baiting charge, believing this would resolve Vaughn's animosity. Hueble was accused of baiting at the start of turkey season too. Based on these encounters with Vaughn, Hueble believed that Vaughn had a "vendetta" against him and that Vaughn's supervisor was fully aware of the alleged threats he was making against Hueble. Because of these concerns, Hueble initiated a complaint with Vaughn's supervisor at DNR. However, the supervisor responded with allegations of Hueble's illegal activity based upon Vaughn's version of the events. Hueble filed a complaint against DNR and Vaughn. He obtained a Rule 68, SCRCP, judgment of $5,100 in his favor at the close of litigation. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether Hueble was a prevailing party within the meaning of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1988 (2006), and was therefore entitled to attorneys' fees. The Court held that he was, and reversed the lower courts' holdings to the contrary, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Hueble v. SCDNR" on Justia Law

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Respondent AVX Corporation manufactured electronic parts at a plant in North Myrtle Beach. In 1980, respondent began using a chemical called trichloroethylene (TCE) as a degreaser to clean machine tools and parts. At some point, TCE escaped the plant and migrated beyond the boundaries of respondent's property, contaminating surrounding properties and groundwater. In December 1996, respondent entered into a consent order with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), in which respondent admitted that it had violated certain state environmental statutes and regulations. DHEC required respondent to implement a plan to clean up the TCE. In 2007, environmental testing performed in a ten block section north of respondent's plant showed levels of TCE greater than considered safe. On November 27, 2007, a group of residents who own real property near respondent's plant filed suit alleging causes of action for trespass, nuisance, negligence, and strict liability. The residents brought the suit both individually and as class representatives pursuant to Rule 23, SCRCP. The circuit court granted respondent's Rule 12(b)(6) motion and dismissed appellants' claims with prejudice. In dismissing appellants' trespass, negligence, and strict liability claims, the circuit court stated that such claims "cannot be maintained when there is no evidence that alleged contamination has physically impacted [appellants'] properties." Further, with respect to appellants' nuisance claim, the circuit court noted that a claimant must plead an unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of his or her property in order to state a claim for nuisance. Therefore, the circuit court found that because their properties are not contaminated, appellants' allegations did not state a claim for nuisance. Appellants appealed. We affirm the circuit court's dismissal of both appellants' nuisance and strict liability claims because the complaint alleges actual contamination of the property in pleading both of these causes of action. Since each of these claims was pled only on behalf of the Subclass A plaintiffs and not on behalf of appellants, we uphold the circuit court's dismissal of these two causes of action pursuant to Rule 220(c), SCACR. As explained below, however, we find the complaint sufficiently pleads a negligence cause of action on behalf of appellants, and therefore reverse the dismissal of this claim. View "Chestnut v. AVX Corporation" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court's review centered on the correct application of those statutes and regulations pertinent to an invaluable (environmentally, economically, and socially) stretch of tidelands located on the edge of a spit of land along the South Carolina coast. A landowner and real estate developer sought a permit to construct a bulkhead and revetment stretching over 2,700 feet in length and 40 feet in width over the State's tidelands, thereby permanently altering 111,320 square feet or over 2.5 acres of pristine tidelands. The landowner sought to halt ongoing erosion along that stretch of tidelands in order to facilitate a residential development on the adjacent highland area. The Department of Health and Environmental Control denied the majority of the requested permit and granted a small portion to protect an existing county park. An administrative law court (ALC) disagreed and found a permit should be granted for the entire structure, and this appeal followed. The Supreme Court concluded the ALC committed several errors of law and therefore, it reversed and remanded for further consideration. View "Kiawah Development v. South Carolina Dept. of Health & Env. Ctrl." on Justia Law

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This case centered on a claim for equitable indemnification, which was denied by the trial court. Appellants were sued by adjacent property owners regarding environmental contamination. Appellants denied responsibility for the contamination and cross-claimed against the previous property owner, who was responsible for the damage. Because Appellants were not responsible for the ground contamination, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellants but declined to award Appellants the attorney's fees and costs incurred in defending the lawsuit. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded: "[t]he facts of this case clearly demonstrate that the attorney's fees and costs incurred by Appellants in defending the [plaintiffs'] lawsuit were the natural and probable consequences of [respondent's] breach of the purchase agreement." View "McCoy v. Greenwave Enterprises" on Justia Law

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Five questions of South Carolina law were certified to the State Supreme Court by the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: (1) when a plaintiff seeks recovery for a temporary trespass or nuisance, are the damages limited to the lost rental value of the property?; (2) does South Carolina law recognize a cause of action for trespass solely from invisible odors rather than a physical invasion such as dust or water?; (3) is the maximum amount of compensatory damages a plaintiff can receive in any trespass or nuisance action (temporary or permanent) the full market value of the plaintiffs' property where no claim for restoration or cleanup costs has been alleged?; (4) when a plaintiff contends that offensive odors have migrated from a neighbor's property onto the plaintiff's property, may the plaintiff maintain an independent cause of action for negligence or is the plaintiff limited to remedies under trespass and nuisance?; and (5) if an independent cause of action for negligence exists under South Carolina law when a plaintiff contends that offensive odors have migrated from a neighbor's property onto the plaintiff's property, does the standard of care for a landfill operator and breach thereof need to be established through expert testimony? The South Carolina Supreme Court answered: (1) damages recoverable for a temporary trespass or nuisance claim are limited to the lost rental value of the property; (2) a trespass exists only when an intrusion is made by a physical, tangible thing; (3) the damages recoverable for a permanent trespass or nuisance claim are limited to the full market value of the property; (4) a negligence claim based on offensive odors is possible, but that such a claim would have to satisfy all the elements of negligence like any other negligence claim; and (5) the Court was unable to make a definitive determination as to whether establishing the standard of care of a landfill operator in regards to offensive odors required expert testimony, but offered guidelines for making such a determination. View "Babb v. Lee County Landfill" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case arose from an administrative law court's (ALC) decision authorizing Respondent Kiawah Development Partners to construct a bulkhead and revetment on Captain Sam's Spit (the Spit) on Kiawah Island. In 1999, the Office of Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) established a baseline and building set back line twenty feet landward based on information that the Spit had accreted, and had not been subject to any significant, measurable erosion between 1959 and 1999. The movement of the baseline prompted Respondent to consider development of the Spit. On February 29, 2008, Respondent submitted an application to DHEC for a permit to construct a combination bulkhead and revetment in the area. On December 18, 2008, DHEC issued a conditional permit approving the construction of the erosion control structure for a distance of 270 feet. DHEC refused the permit request for a remaining 2,513 feet based on its concerns regarding cumulative negative impacts, including interference with natural inlet formation and possible adverse effects on wintering piping plovers. DHEC also determined that the project was contrary to the policies set forth in the Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP). Respondent requested a final review conference by the DHEC Board, but the Board declined to hold a review conference. Respondent then requested a contested case hearing before the ALC, and challenged the denial of the construction of a bulkhead and revetment along the remaining 2,513 feet. The Coastal Conservation League (CCL) opposed the construction of any bulkhead or revetment on the Spit, and also requested a contested case hearing challenging the decision to authorize the 270 foot structure, but supporting denial of the remainder. The cases were consolidated. The ALC granted Respondent's permit to construct the bulkhead and revetment, subject to certain conditions reducing and altering its size. DHEC and CCL (collectively, Appellants) appealed the ALC's order. The Supreme Court reversed the ALC and remanded the issue in a decision published in late 2011. The Court subsequently granted Respondent's petition for rehearing, and accepted an amicus brief from the Savannah River Maritime Commission (the SRMC). The Court then withdrew its initial opinion, and issue this opinion, affirmed the decision of the ALC. "The essence of Appellants' argument is rooted in dissatisfaction with the verbiage and structure of the ALC's order, and not in actual errors of law or the absence of substantial evidence. The ALC acted within the permissible scope of its authority in modifying the existing permit to include a structure no larger than that requested by Respondent or initially reviewed by DHEC. On appeal of a contested case, we must affirm the ALC if the findings are supported by substantial evidence." View "Kiawah Development v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Savannah Riverkeeper, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, South Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Conservation Voters of South Carolina (collectively, Conservation Groups) petitioned the Supreme Court Court to hear this matter in its original jurisdiction to determine whether the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) acted illegally and usurped the authority of the Savannah River Maritime Commission (the Commission) when it negotiated an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) and the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) before issuing a 401 Water Quality Certification (the Certification or the 401 Certification) requested for the proposed Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP). The Court granted the petition. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that DHEC's action contravened the plain language of S.C. Code Ann. section 54-6-10 (2007). View "Savannah Riverkeeper v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

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In 1969, the State sued Appellant Yelsen Land Company alleging that the State owned "all tidelands, submerged lands, and waters" adjacent to Morris Island.  Appellant answered and claimed it owned all the tidelands, submerged lands, and marshes adjacent to Morris Island. Appellant also counterclaimed for trespass on those lands by the Corps of Engineers in the form of spoilage dredged from Charleston Harbor, the digging of a ditch, and the erection of a dike. In the first appeal, the Supreme Court held that the legal questions of title to the land should be tried to a jury and that the trial judge erred in denying the State a jury trial. The jury returned a general verdict for the State, having been charged that title to tidelands, submerged lands, and all land below the high water mark on navigable streams were presumptively the State's unless the entity claiming title can show a specific grant from the sovereign that included the words "to the low water mark."  It was also charged that it was to determine title to marshlands and to return damages for appellant if it found the State had trespassed on marshland owned by appellant or if it found a taking. Following the jury verdict, Appellant moved for a judgment non obstante verdicto and a new trial, both of which the trial judge denied in a written order. In 2007, Appellant brought this suit against the State contending that the dredging spoils placed in the tidelands had created new highlands, and that as the adjacent highland owner, it was the owner of the newly “accreted” highlands as well.  The State Ports Authority (SPA) sought to intervene, but in lieu of intervention, Appellant was permitted to amend its complaint to add the SPA. A Master granted the State and the SPA summary judgment, and Appellant appealed.  The Supreme Court affirmed, finding res judicata applied to bar Appellant's attempt to relitigate title to the property. View "Yelsen Land Company v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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This issue in this case centered on proposed renovations to the overcrowded Chapin High School, which required filling in a portion of a stream on its property.  District 5 of Lexington and Richland Counties received a water quality certification (WQC) from the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), authorizing the project and allowing the District to fill the approved portion of the stream.  The Administrative Law Court (ALC) affirmed the certification, and Appellant Kim Murphy appealed, arguing the ALC erred in determining that the vicinity of the project included the area surrounding the proposed fill, failied to find that the project would damage the surrounding ecosystem, and found no feasible alternatives to the proposed project. She also alleged DHEC impermissibly abdicated its decision-making authority to the District.  Upon review, the Supreme Court found no error in the ALC's analysis or in DHEC's evaluation of the project and accordingly affirmed those decisions. View "Murphy v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League (League) and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) appealed an administrative law judge's (ALJ) order that allowed Respondent Kiawah Development Partners to construct erosion control devices in a critical zone on Captain Sam's Spit (Spit). Respondent owend a peninsula (Spit) which lies primarily south of Kiawah Island, surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, Kiawah River and Captain Sam's Inlet which separates the Spit from Seabrook Island. For the past sixty years, the Spit has been "growing," accreting sand on the ocean side at a greater rate than it has been losing ground to erosion on the river side. Respondent leased oceanfront property near the neck to the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission, which operates Beachwalker Park there. Respondent sought a permit from DHEC to erect a 2,783 foot bulkhead/revetment combination along the Kiawah River, with the structure to begin at the neck, that is, at Beachwalker Park. DHEC authorized construction of the proposed erosion control device for 270 feet, beginning at Beachwalker Park, and denied the remaining portion of the request. Both the League and Respondent requested a contested case hearing before the ALJ, the League to protest the portion of the permit request which was granted, and Respondent to challenge the portion denied. The Appellants contended the ALJ failed to give the deference due DHEC's interpretation of the statutes and regulations, and further that he exceeded his authority in rewriting the permit, resulting in one with terms neither approved by DHEC nor sought by Respondent. Upon review of the ALJ's ruling and the applicable legal standards, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding the ALJ's decision was "affected by numerous errors of law … beginning with the ALJ's misunderstanding of the applicable statutes, regulations, and public policies, and concluding with his erroneous effort to craft a new permit, one which has never been sought by respondent, nor reviewed by OCRM, and which he, in any case, lack[ed] the authority to issue." View "Kiawah Development v. So. Car. Dept. of Health & Environ. Cont." on Justia Law