Week Twenty-Six

Week of June 26, 2017 through June 30, 2017

Murray Energy Corporation v. Environmental Protection Agency (Floyd 6/29/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that a federal court does not have the authority under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) management of its continuous duty to evaluate the potential employment impact of CAA administration and enforcement. The court vacated the district court’s judgments as to the EPA and remanded to have Murray Energy Corporation’s suit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Full Opinion

PETA v. USDA (Thacker 6/28/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the United States Department of Agriculture’s (“USDA”) license renewal process for animal exhibitors, in which the USDA may renew a license despite a licensee’s noncompliance with the Animal Welfare Act (“AWA”), did not violate the AWA. The court reasoned that because the AWA does not directly address license renewal for animal exhibitors but expressly authorizes the USDA to promulgate and implement its own renewal standards, the USDA’s interpretation was owed deference. The court affirmed the district court’s decision to grant the USDA’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. Full Opinion

Kay Ansley v. Marion Warren (Wilkinson 6/28/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that three couples, either married or engaged, lacked standing to challenge North Carolina’s Senate Bill 2, which allows state magistrates to recuse themselves from performing marriages because of religious objection. The court concluded that the couples did not claim the state violated their right to marry; instead, the couples challenged the religious exemption as taxpayers. The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the claim for lack of standing. Full Opinion

United States v. Quantrell Reid (Niemeyer 6/28/2017): The Fourth Circuit upheld the defendant’s fifteen-year prison sentence for possession of a firearm by a felon because his prior three convictions under Virginia Code § 18.2-55 fell within the Armed Career Criminal Act’s (“ACCA”) definition of a “violent felony.” The court concluded that, to violate Virginia Code § 18.2-55, a defendant must use force with the ability to cause physical pain or injury, thus bringing the present defendant’s violations within the ACCA. The court affirmed the district court’s sentencing of the defendant. Full Opinion

United States v. Mark Concha (Traxler 6/26/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion in considering factors unrelated to the defendant’s assistance to the government when it imposed sentencing. The court concluded that the district court erred in considering facts related to the defendant’s culpability for the charged conspiracy when determining his sentencing, rather than solely his substantial assistance to the government. The court vacated the defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing. Full Opinion

 

Highlight Case

Murray Energy Corporation v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 16-2432

Decided: June 29, 2017

The Fourth Circuit held that a federal court did not have the authority under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) management of its continuous duty to evaluate the potential employment impact of CAA administration and enforcement.  The court found the district court erred in concluding that it could adjudicate Murray Energy Corporation’s (“Murray”) Section 321(a)-based suit pursuant to Section 304(a)(2) of the CAA.

In 2014, Murray filed suit against the EPA Administrator, alleging a failure to comply with Section 321(a), which imposed a mechanism for reviewing the effects of the CAA’s environmental rules on employment. Murray filed its suit under Section 304(a)(2) of the CAA, which provided a civil remedy against the EPA Administrator for any alleged failure to perform an act or duty under the CAA that is not discretionary. Murray requested an injunction that would order the EPA to conduct Section 321(a) evaluations and prohibit the EPA from engaging in certain regulatory activities until it had conducted those evaluations. The EPA moved for summary judgment on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that its 321(a) duty was not a non-discretionary duty cognizable under Section 304(a)(2), and that Murray lacked standing to challenge the EPA’s alleged non-compliance. The district court ultimately ruled in favor of Murray. After the EPA submitted a response to the district court’s opinion, proposing a plan and schedule to supplement its performance of Section 321(a) evaluations, Mon Valley Clean Air Coalition (“Mon Valley”) filed a motion for leave to intervene in support of the EPA, intending to prevent Section 321(a) from being used to stay or impede certain CAA regulations. The district court denied Mon Valley’s motion to intervene as moot.

The court ultimately ruled that the district court erred in construing Section 304(a)(2) narrowly to authorize Murray’s Section 321(a)-based suit against the EPA. The court confined its scope to the enforcement of legally required acts or duties of a specific and discrete nature that precluded broad agency discretion. In reviewing Section 321(a), the court held the statutory language did not impose upon the EPA a specific and discrete duty for Section 304(a)(2) review. Rather, Section 321(a) imposed on the EPA a broad, open-ended mandate. Thus, because Section 304(a)(2) does not authorize the suit by Murray against the EPA, the district court lacked jurisdiction over the suit. Finally, the court reasoned Mon Valley’s appeal was moot because holding that the EPA’s compliance with Section 321(a) was not reviewable here foreclosed the possibility that the district court could issue the injunction, thus providing Mon Valley the relief it was seeking through intervention.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment as it impacted the EPA, remanded to have Murray’s suit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, and dismissed as moot Mon Valley’s appeal of the district court’s denial of its motion to intervene.

Full Opinion

Kayla Culver

 

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