Justia Connecticut Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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Connecticut Energy Marketers Association brought this action against the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (collectively, Defendants) alleging that Defendants violated the Environmental Policy Act when Defendants approved a plan for a significant expansion of the use of natural gas in the state without evaluating the environmental impact of an increase in the use of natural gas pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 22a-1b(c). Defendants filed separate motions to dismiss, arguing that no environmental impact evaluation was required because Defendants’ activities did not constitute “actions which may significantly affect the environment” for purposes of section 22a-1b(c). The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in granting Defendants’ motions to dismiss on the ground that the requirement of an environmental impact evaluation in section 22a-1b(c) does not apply to Defendants’ activities in this case. View "Connecticut Energy Marketers Ass’n v. Department of Energy & Environmental Protection" on Justia Law

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The Commissioner of Environmental Protection brought this action against Defendants, auto parts companies, alleging that Defendants had violated Conn. Gen. Stat. 22a-430(a), 22a-430b and 22a-427, which are part of the Water Pollution Control Act. As a remedy, the trial court ordered Defendants to pay certain fines and to retain an environmental professional to assist Defendants in complying with the law, to conduct testing on the site at issue to determine whether a significant environmental hazard exists, and, if so, to abate the condition. The trial court rendered judgment against Defendants. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) having found that Defendants had violated the Water Pollution Control Act, the trial court was required to order Defendants to remediate the pollution in accordance with the remediation standards promulgated by the Commissioner, and the court did not have discretion to fashion a remedy that did not purport to do so; and (2) the trial court’s order also constituted an abuse of discretion because it was effectively unenforceable. Remanded for a new trial. View "Comm’r of Envtl. Prot. v. Underpass Auto Parts Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the Planning and Zoning Commission’s denial of its subdivision permit. Intervenor intervened in the appeal to the trial court pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 22a-19(a), raising claims related to the environmental impact of the proposed development. After remanding the matter back to the Commission for further fact-finding relating to Intervenor’s claims, the trial court set aside the Commission’s findings and adjudicated the factual issues itself. The trial court rendered judgment in favor of Intervenor and forbade Plaintiff’s proposed subdivision from going forward because of its potential environmental impact. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Environmental Protection Act does not empower a trial court to enter an injunction in an administrative appeal of a zoning decision involving an intervention under section 22a-19; and (2) the trial court could not have properly relied on Conn. Gen. Stat. 22a-18(b) through (d) to remand the matter back to the Commission for consideration of Intervenor’s claims or to independently adjudicate the factual issues raised in those claims. View "Hunter Ridge, LLC v. Planning & Zoning Comm’n" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, which owned facilities used for earth materials excavation and processing, submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection five individual applications for water diversion permits. The Department requested additional information for all five of Plaintiff’s applications. Plaintiff did not fully comply with the Department’s request. Instead of submitting the requested information, Plaintiff filed a petition for a declaratory ruling to address the scope of the Department’s authority to request information for Plaintiff’s water diversion permit applications. The Commissioner of Environmental Protection deemed all of the Department’s actions authorized under the Connecticut Water Diversion Policy Act (Act). The trial court endorsed in all material respects the Commissioner’s interpretation of the Act. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Act does not authorize the Department’s attempts to regulate Plaintiff’s excavation activities; (2) the Act does not authorize the Department to request a wetlands mitigation plan for the alteration of wetlands that had been authorized by prior municipal wetlands permit; and (3) the Department may not delay processing Plaintiff’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit application due to a pending water diversion permit application. View "Tilcon Connecticut, Inc. v. Comm’r of Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law

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The Department of Environmental Protection (Department), acting through its office of Long Island Sound Programs (Office), ordered Plaintiffs, Gail and Thomas Lane, to remove a boardwalk and dock from their property because they had been installed without the statutorily required permits. The Office then denied Plaintiffs’ application for a certificate of permission to retain and maintain the structures and to install a new boardwalk pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 22a-363b(a)(2). The Department upheld the Office’s rulings. The trial court dismissed Plaintiffs’ administrative appeal. The Appellate Court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Appellate Court properly interpreted section 22a-363b(a) in concluding that the trial court properly dismissed Plaintiffs’ administrative appeal. View "Lane v. Comm’r of Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law

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BNE Energy, Inc. submitted two petitions for declaratory rulings seeking the Connecticut Siting Council’s approval for the construction and operation of three electric generating wind turbines on two separate properties in the town of Colebrook. Plaintiffs intervened in the proceedings. The Council approved the petitions with conditions, and Plaintiffs appealed. The trial court dismissed Plaintiffs’ appeals. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in concluding that the Council (1) had jurisdiction over BNE’s petitions; (2) was authorized to attach conditions to its approval of the petitions; (3) was authorized to approve the petitions even though it had not determined that the proposed projects comply with state noise law; (4) properly approved of shorter hub heights for one of the projects; and (5) did not deprive Plaintiffs of their right to fundamental fairness during the hearings on the petitions. View "FairwindCT, Inc. v. Conn. Siting Council" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs installed a gabion seawall on their property to mitigate the effects of erosion. Plaintiffs did not seek approval from the town or the department of environmental protection (department) before constructing the seawall. The town subsequently issued a cease and desist order to Plaintiffs, and the department issued a notice of violation to Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs submitted a permit application to the department attempting to obtain permission to retain the seawall. The department denied the application and ordered Plaintiffs to remove the seawall. Plaintiffs challenged the removal order. A department hearing officer determined that the department properly exercised jurisdiction and that the department had the authority to order the wall to be removed. The trial court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the department properly asserted jurisdiction over the seawall; (2) the department properly asserted jurisdiction under the Coastal Management Act; (3) substantial evidence supported the department's findings and conclusions; and (4) the hearing officer's decision to order the removal of the entire seawall was not an abuse of discretion. View "Sams v. Dep't of Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law

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The named defendant, EAPWJP, LLC (EAP) appealed from the judgment of the appellate court affirming the judgment of the trial court granting the plaintiffs and the defendants-cross claimants a prescriptive easement over a pathway crossing property owned by EAP that the plaintiffs and the defendants-cross claimants had used for many years to access a nearby beach. The pathway traversed protected tidal wetlands and was covered in part by a wooden walkway installed without appropriate permits. The Supreme Court granted certification to appeal to ask whether the appellate court properly concluded that construction and use of a walkway deemed to be a per se public nuisance could establish a prescriptive easement over the underlying tidal wetlands. The Court dismissed the appeal as improvidently granted, concluding that the issue raised by the certified question went beyond the scope of the record below, and therefore, the issue was not properly preserved. View "Murphy v. EAPWJP, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant Gary Weddle and the intervening Defendant, the conservation commission of the town of Fairfield, appealed from the trial court's decision granting the writ of quo warranto filed by Plaintiffs, certain concerned taxpayers of the town of Fairfield, and ordering Weddle's removal from the office of wetlands compliance officer. On appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed the procedural and substantive requirements for maintaining a quo warranto action. The Court affirmed the decision of the trial court, holding (1) plaintiffs demonstrated sufficient interest to establish standing to pursue the quo warranto action; and (2) the trial court properly granted Plaintiffs' writ of quo warranto on the basis that Weddle's appointment to the wetland compliance officer position violated the town charter by usurping the office of the conservation director. View "Bateson v. Weddle" on Justia Law

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This appeal raised several issues regarding the scope of the jurisdiction of the department of environmental protection to regulate activity "in the tidal, coastal or navigable waters of the state waterward of the high tide line" under Conn. Gen. Stat. 22a-359. Plaintiff appealed from the trial court's judgment denying his administrative appeal contesting the department's order directing Plaintiff to remove a seawall that he had constructed on his property along Long Island Sound without having obtained a permit in accordance with Conn. Gen. Stat. 22a-361. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the trial court properly concluded that substantial evidence showed at least part of Plaintiff's seawall was constructed waterward of the high tide line, properly concluded that section 22a-359 was not unconstitutionally vague as applied to Plaintiff's seawall, and properly denied Plaintiff's discovery request with respect to his claim of unconstitutional vagueness; but (2) in the absence of a finding by the department that the entire seawall was constructed waterward of the high tide line, the trial court improperly determined that the department had jurisdiction under section 22a-361 to order removal of the entire seawall. View "Shanahan v. Dep't of Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law