Recently in Environment Category

Rebuilding your pool fence


We're requiring you to do it, but we're also forbidding you to do it, explain the nice folks at Town Hall (Maggie's Farm, May 4, via Never Yet Melted).

This website is mentioned in an article on allergies and chemical sensitivities in the workplace, specifically on the case of Susan McBride, who's suing her employer, the city of Detroit, for not preventing a co-worker from wearing perfume to the office (see Jul. 6 and Jul. 18, 2007; earlier Detroit case, May 25, 2005). (Lisa Belkin, "Sickened by the Office (Really)", May 1).

Another case, this time from Brooklyn, about how it's terribly discriminatory and wrong and just plain mean for a landlord not to want to rent to a family with small kids on the grounds that old lead paint, dangerous to small kids, can be found on the premises. (Andy Newman, "Couple's Suit Accuses Real Estate Firm of Bias Against Children", New York Times, Apr. 25). For a similar case from Baltimore, see Nov. 30, 2000.

"Who Owns Antiquity?"

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About time someone stood up to the demands against Western museums and collectors for repatriation of "cultural patrimony" lawfully obtained at the time (Eric Ormsby, "Treasures on Trial" (review of new James Cuno book), WSJ, Apr. 26; Kerry Howley, Reason "Hit and Run", Apr. 24; earlier coverage).

To borrow the summary from the highly recommended Arts & Letters Daily: "The British love their trees, but across the land beautiful old trees are being chopped down in their thousands. The reason? Safety rules and hungry lawyers... " (Michael McCarthy, "Green giants: Our love affair with trees", Independent (U.K.), Apr. 25). Earlier: Dec. 3, 2006, etc. More: Scott Greenfield says don't blame the lawyers, blame the towns and other authorities for overreacting.

Longtime Overlawyered readers may remember my tut-tutting the original proprietor of the Bizarro-Overlawyered site for misrepresenting a Southern District of New York opinion by claiming that its disposition of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion was an affirmative finding of fact that Christine Todd Whitman had acted improperly in the wake of the September 11 attacks. (In fact, all the court did was rule that the case could go forward on the allegations of the plaintiffs' complaint.) The Second Circuit has now spanked the district court for going even that far, and tossed the entire case, ruling that this was not an appropriate inquiry for the judicial branch, given the risk that officials will be deterred from making public statements if they could be held liable for allegedly making a mistake. Good analysis of Benzman v. Whitman by Stephen Bergstein via Bashman.

Visit the vet, or else? "A cat owner who did not seek treatment for his pet's serious ailments during the cat's last year of life can be charged with animal cruelty, a Manhattan judge has ruled. Allegations that the defendant left a 'swollen and bleeding' paw and other conditions untreated 'sufficiently demonstrate that the animal was subjected to unjustifiable physical pain,' Criminal Court Judge ShawnDya L. Simpson wrote. The owner allegedly admitted that he had owned the cat for 15 years and never took him to the veterinarian." (Noeleen G. Walder, New York Law Journal, Mar. 24).

In Boulder, Colorado, hair salon owner Joy Douglas "received a $1,000 ticket from an animal-control officer for coloring her white poodle, Cici, pink by using organic beet juice." Everyone seems to agree that the dye job is not physically harmful to the pooch, who is well cared for in other ways, but Boulder has a town ordinance against animal-dyeing, aimed at Easter-season tormentors of bunnies and chicks, and several residents ratted Douglas out. She says the idea of the pink fur was to raise awareness for breast cancer. ("Boulder's pink poodle owner preps for legal fight", Denver Post, Mar. 11).

A snapshot from Massachusetts of the campaign (national in scope) to create rights to sue for intangible damages against veterinarians, motorists, and others judged to have negligently killed a pet. Debra Campanile of Haverhill is on a mission to enact such a law, which, along with provisions for unbounded emotional distress damages, would require punitive damages to be awarded in a sum of at least $2,500. The story does not specify whether the $2,500 would be payable per incident or per actual creature whose life was ended, which could make quite a difference in the case of negligently knocking over Billy's ant farm. (Laurel J. Sweet, "Push for liability in animal deaths would put....", Boston Herald, Mar. 10).

9/11 dust

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Ramon Gilsanz, a structural engineer with a small office in Manhattan, showed up at the World Trade Center site to pitch in after the disaster; like many others, he started as a volunteer and found his role evolving into a subcontractor at the city's request. Now, like about 130 other structural engineers, he is named in many of 8,000 lawsuits filed by the Paul Napoli firm and others over dust exposure to various bystanders. He and another structural engineer said they worked alongside the other rescue and cleanup workers and were never assigned responsibility for air quality. (Jim Dwyer, "For Engineer, a Cloud of Litigation After 9/11", New York Times, Feb. 23).

Whatever the failings of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Flood Control Act of 1928 makes clear that federal taxpayers cannot be forced to pay through litigation for the catastrophic collapse of the levees, so there goes the multi-trillion-dollar class action. (Cain Burdeau and Michael Kunzelman, AP/Forbes, Jan. 30).

Redwoods vs. solar panels

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Richard Treanor and Carolynn Bissett face criminal charges for not cutting redwoods that have grown to block a neighbor's panels. (Paul Rogers, "Sunnyvale homeowners told to cut redwoods that block solar panels", San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 24)(h/t: Karen Myers).

More: Kevin at Truck and Barter thinks the local statute, which includes elements of first-in-time first-in-right, does a relatively good job at drawing bright-line rules to protect the competing legitimate interests of the property owners. For arguably relevant history, check out the old English doctrine of "ancient lights".


After years of wrangling in the Ninth Circuit and lower courts over environmentalist efforts to block Navy anti-sub sonar exercises on the grounds that they disturb marine mammals, the issue may be resolved by a Presidential assertion of national security interest.
A commenter asked why Bush had the authority to do this. President Bush's order is on-line. The claimed authority is based on 16 U.S.C. § 1456(c)(1)(B), which reads in relevant part:
After any final judgment, decree, or order of any Federal court that is appealable under section 1291 or 1292 of title 28, or under any other applicable provision of Federal law, that a specific Federal agency activity is not in compliance with [the Coastal Zone Management Act], and certification by the Secretary that mediation under subsection (h) of this section is not likely to result in such compliance, the President may, upon written request from the Secretary, exempt from compliance those elements of the Federal agency activity that are found by the Federal court to be inconsistent with an approved State program, if the President determines that the activity is in the paramount interest of the United States.
The claim by the NRDC that the president's action is "an attack on the rule of law" and "flouting the will of Congress" is thus invalid: Congress explicitly reserved to the president the power to override a court decision finding a federal agency in violation of the Coastal Zone Management Act by exempting the agency from its requirements. The case has been remanded to district court, but whether it is sound policy to value military convenience over whales is now a political question that will now be resolved by Congress and the President, with nothing more for the court to decide, as the court does not have the authority to second-guess the president's decision whether something is in the "paramount interest of the United States."

(Separately, the Navy complied with the National Environmental Protection Act when the Council for Environmental Quality issued a letter (151-page PDF, but pages 3-4 are the relevant ones for the lay curious) under 40 C.F.R. § 1506.11; this will likely get litigated by NRDC, as who better to determine the military needs of the United States than a private litigant and a federal judge?)

After years of wrangling in the Ninth Circuit and lower courts over environmentalist efforts to block Navy anti-sub sonar exercises on the grounds that they disturb marine mammals, the issue may be resolved by a Presidential assertion of national security interest. (Pauline Jelinek, AP/Google, Jan. 16). Earlier coverage here. More: NYTimes.

The Dhaliwal brothers prefer to have attorney Mark Geragos do the talking, greatly frustrating investigators trying to reconstruct what happened in the zoo mauling. (Jaxon Van Derbeken, "In ambulance, survivors of S.F. tiger attack made pact of silence", San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 5; "San Francisco Authorities Seek to Inspect Tiger Attack Victims' Cell Phones", AP/, Jan. 5; Patricia Yollin, Tanya Schevitz, Kevin Fagan, "S.F. Zoo visitor saw 2 victims of tiger attack teasing lions", San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 3; Jacob Sullum, "The Buck Keeps Moving", syndicated/Reason, Jan. 2). Earlier: Jan. 3.

"Half Moon Bay is wrestling with unpleasant options for responding to a court ruling that officials say threatens the 'very existence of our city government' - a $36.8 million judgment against the city for turning a proposed housing development site into wetlands." The town's annual budget is $10 million. The property in question had become unbuildable when protected wetlands appeared on it, as a result, the owner contended, of negligent town policies affecting water flow and retention. The plaintiff had bought the property in 1993 for $1 million. "Under the worst-case scenario, officials say, Half Moon Bay would become the first Bay Area city forced to dissolve, and the coastal town's land would become an unincorporated part of San Mateo County." (John Coté, San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 18).

Eyesore preservation

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The brutalist-modern Third Church of Christ Scientist is one of the most widely disliked buildings in Washington, D.C., not least by its own congregation, which groans at the impracticalities of maintaining the concrete monstrosity: "According to one church official, you've got to build scaffolding just to reach some of the [light] bulbs [to change them]." But Washington's local architectural-preservation authorities forbid the congregants from replacing the building, which dates all the way back to 1971. (Charles Paul Freund, "A Brutalist Bargain", American Spectator, Dec. 18).

You must bear in mind, though, in considering the suit by bitten ex-housekeeper Zamfira Sfara, that this is one very wealthy pooch. (Elizabeth Hays, New York Daily News, Dec. 9).

Rockville, Maryland: "A Montgomery County jury has rejected a negligence lawsuit brought by a woman who claimed she was attacked by a Canada goose while at a shopping center in 2004, causing her to fall and break her hip." Suzanne Webster's attorney said "the store made the situation worse by letting employees feed the geese." (AP/, Dec. 10).

Curious goings-on in North Carolina:

Kristin Wallace bought some very wet land as an investment. Eight acres of it, all underneath Lake Lynn.

The Cary woman bought the land for $12,500 last year at a public auction of property with delinquent taxes. Now she is suing to try to force the city of Raleigh or Wake County to buy the soggy land from her or drain it.

"It's extremely valuable to me," Wallace said, "dry."

City and county officials say Wallace, who started investing in real estate less than two years ago, knew the land was lake bottom when she bought it, something she doesn't dispute.

"It's bought as is," said Shelley Eason with the County Attorney's Office.

(Sarah Ovaska, "Pull the plug on Lake Lynn, suit demands", Raleigh News & Observer, Dec. 6).

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