Justia Iowa Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
Iowa Citizens For Community Improvement v. State
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Defendants' motion to dismiss this petition seeking to force Defendants to enact legislation that will compel Iowa farmers to take action that will significantly reduce levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Raccoon River, holding that the motion to dismiss should have been granted.Plaintiffs - two social justice organizations - brought this case against Defendants - the State, four state agencies, and multiple state officials - seeking declaratory relief and to compel the State to adopt a "Raccoon River remedial plan with mandatory agricultural water pollution controls." Defendants moved to dismiss the petition based on lack of standing, nonjusticiability, and failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the petition's attenuated causation theory was insufficient to establish that Plaintiffs' members suffered a concrete injury at the hands of Defendants that a favorable court decision was likely to redress; and (2) Plaintiffs' effort to repurpose the public trust doctrine to solve a complex environmental problem presented a nonjusticiable political question. View "Iowa Citizens For Community Improvement v. State" on Justia Law
Mathis v. Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors
The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment granting summary judgment and dismissing Plaintiffs' claims challenging the decisions of a county board of supervisors approving a wind energy ordinance and a specific wind energy project, holding that Plaintiffs' claims were matters for the board of supervisors, and not the courts, to resolve.The board unanimously passed and approved a "wind energy conversion systems ordinance" and then granted conditional approval for the wind energy project at issue in this case. Plaintiffs then filed a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief and for a writ of certiorari against the board seeking a declaration that the ordinance was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, void and unenforceable and a writ determining that the approval of the project should be set aside as illegal, arbitrary and capricious, unreasonable and void. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the board did not act illegally, arbitrarily, or capriciously. View "Mathis v. Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law
Mathis v. Iowa Utilities Board
In this case concerning an Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) legal standard for when a series of wind turbines constitute an "electric power generating plant or combination of plants at a single site" within the meaning of Iowa Code 476A.1(5), the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment upholding the IUB's declaratory order declining to require a certificate of public convenience, use, and necessity for a large 170-turbine wind project, holding that the IUB did not err in interpreting Iowa Code 476A.1(5).Since 1997, the IUB has ruled that for wind energy purposes all turbines connected to a single gathering line shall be considered a "single site" or "facility" within the meaning of section 476A.1(5) and that turbines connected to separate gathering lines shall be treated as different sites or facilities. Landowners in Palo Alto County in this case argued that the IUB should have exercised jurisdiction over the turbine wind project at issue in this case because, under the common gathering line standard, it did not exceed the minimum power output requirements. The district court upheld the IUB's position declining to require a certificate for the facility. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the phrase "single site" is ambiguous and that the IUB's interpretation of section 476A.1(5) is not erroneous. View "Mathis v. Iowa Utilities Board" on Justia Law
Brakke v. Iowa Department of Natural Resources
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lacked statutory authority to issue an emergency order that imposed a quarantine on land used as a whitetail deer-hunting preserve.Landowners challenged an emergency order issued by the DNR to order Landowners to quarantine land formerly used as a whitetail deer preserve for five years after the deer harvested on the property tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). An administrative law judge found that the DNR lacked the statutory authority to issue the emergency order, but the Iowa Natural Resources Commission (NRC) reversed. The district court reversed the NRC, holding that, in issuing the quarantine order, the DNR was acting outside the legislature’s grant of authority. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the DNR lacked the authority to issue the emergency order and that the emergency order did not amount to an impermissible taking under the United States or Iowa Constitutions. View "Brakke v. Iowa Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law
Board of Water Works Trustees of the City of Des Moines v. Sac County Board of Supervisors
Plaintiff in this case was a municipal waterworks that provides drinking water to central Iowans. Plaintiff sued Defendants - upstream drainage districts and their trustees - in federal court for money damages and other remedies to recover its costs to remove nitrates from the water of Raccoon River. The federal court certified questions of Iowa law to the Supreme Court. The Court answered (1) under Iowa law, drainage districts are granted unqualified immunity from damages claims; (2) Iowa precedent recognizes that drainage districts are immune from injunctive relief claims other than mandamus; (3) Plaintiff cannot assert protections afforded by the Iowa Constitution’s inalienable rights, due process, equal protection, and takings clauses against drainage districts as alleged in the complaint; and (4) Plaintiff does not have a property interest that may be the subject of a claim under the Iowa Constitution’s takings clause as alleged in the complaint. View "Board of Water Works Trustees of the City of Des Moines v. Sac County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law
Posted in: Environmental Law
Brandstad v. State ex rel. Nat. Res. Comm’n
After an investigation, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) determined that the release of sweet corn silage runoff from Appellant’s farming operation caused fish kill on the Winnebago River. The DNR submitted a restitution assessment to Appellant, which included a restitution amount of $61,794. After a contested hearing, an administrative law judge issued a proposed decision that affirmed the restitution assessment. The Natural Resource Commission affirmed. The district court reversed and struck the restitution assessment. On remand, the Commission reduced the restitution assessment to Appellant as a result of the fish kill to $5298. Appellant then applied for an award of attorney fees pursuant to Iowa Code 625.29. The district court denied the motion, finding that three exceptions to the requirement to award attorney fees applied. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that none of the exceptions found in section 625.29(1) applied to Appellant’s case to preclude an award of attorney fees and that the district court should have found Appellant was the prevailing party under the statute. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the district court, holding that the State’s role in this case was primarily adjudicative, precluding an award of attorney fees. View "Brandstad v. State ex rel. Nat. Res. Comm’n" on Justia Law
Freeman v. Grain Processing Corp.
Grain Processing Corporation (GPC) operated a local corn wet milling facility in Muscatine. Plaintiffs, eight individuals who resided within one and one-half miles of GPC’s facility, filed a lawsuit on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated Muscatine residents, claiming that GPC’s operations caused harmful pollutants and noxious odors to invade their land. Plaintiffs based their claims on common law and statutory nuisance and the common-law torts of trespass and negligence. GPC filed a motion for summary judgment prior to class certification, claiming (1) Plaintiffs’ common law and statutory claims were preempted by the Federal Clean Air Act; (2) alternatively, the common law claims were preempted by the state statutory companion to the CAA; and (3) the issues raised by Plaintiffs were political questions. The district court granted summary judgment for GPC. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiffs’ claims (1) were not preempted by the CAA; (2) were not preempted by Iowa Code 455B; and (3) were not subject to dismissal by operation of the political question doctrine. View "Freeman v. Grain Processing Corp." on Justia Law
Sierra Club Iowa Chapter v. Iowa Dep’t of Transp.
The Sierra Club and two of its local members challenged the Iowa Department of Transportation's (IDOT) decision to locate a highway adjacent to and through the Rock Island State Preserve by filing a petition for judicial review in the district court. The district court granted IDOT's motion to dismiss, finding that the Sierra Club had not exhausted all administrative remedies before filing its petition. The court of appeals dismissed the Sierra Club's appeal, finding (1) the notice of appeal was timely filed; (2) the Sierra Club was required to seek a declaratory order from IDOT before requesting court intervention; and (3) the case was not ripe for adjudication. The Supreme Court affirmed as to all issues except for ripeness, holding (1) the notice of appeal was timely because the Sierra Club triggered the tolling exception by filing a proper posttrial motion; (2) the Sierra Club must seek a declaratory order before petitioning for judicial review; and (3) the matter was ripe for adjudication. View "Sierra Club Iowa Chapter v. Iowa Dep't of Transp." on Justia Law
Hardin County Drainage Dist. 55 v. Union Pac. R.R. Co.
In 2007, Hardin County Drainage District 55 provided Union Pacific Railroad Company with statutory notice requiring the railroad to rebuild and reconstruct damaged subterranean drainage tile found under the railroad's roadbed. Railroads are statutorily required to pay for the construction and maintenance of culverts and bridges occurring at natural waterways on the railroad's right-of-way. Union Pacific countered that the underground drainage tiles were not "culverts" as defined by the relevant statute. The district court entered judgment for the drainage district, finding the railroad breached its statutory duty to repair the drainage tile. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the drainage tile did not fit the statutory definition of a culvert, and thus the railroad was not obligated to pay for the repairs. Remanded. View "Hardin County Drainage Dist. 55 v. Union Pac. R.R. Co." on Justia Law
Chicago Cent. & Pac. R.R. Co. v. Bd. of Supervisors
Chicago Central and Pacific Railroad Company (CCP) voluntarily performed repairs on a drainage improvement. When its request for reimbursement for those repairs was denied by the Calhoun County Board of Supervisors, the party responsible for keeping drainage district improvements in repair, CCP filed a petition for an appeal. The district court dismissed CCP's petition and entered judgment in favor of the Board, concluding that the CCP was liable for the costs of repair. The court of appeals affirmed. the Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals and affirmed the district court, albeit on a different basis, holding (1) under the statutory scheme enacted by the legislature, the Board has the duty to keep improvements in repair, but it also has the discretion to decide how to fulfill that duty; and (2) because CCP's suit essentially asked the Court to remove the Board's discretion while leaving its responsibilities intact, the suit was not permitted by law, and the district court properly dismissed the action. View "Chicago Cent. & Pac. R.R. Co. v. Bd. of Supervisors" on Justia Law