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Court Upholds Decision That The Ministry May Order Current And Former Owners, And Tenants To Delineate Contamination That Has Migrated Off-Site

Article by Stanley D. Berger and Albert M. Engel

Fogler, Rubinoff LLP

On September 4, 2018, Ontario’s Divisional Court released its decision in Hamilton Beach Brands Canada, Inc. v. Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, 2018 ONSC 5010, dismissing an appeal of a September 1, 2017 decision of Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal (Hamilton Beach Brands Canada Inc. v. Ontario (Environment and Climate Change), 2017 CanLII 57415 (ON ERT)) in which the Tribunal upheld the Ministry’s jurisdiction to order current and former owners and tenants of a contaminated property to delineate contamination that has migrated to off-site properties. The Tribunal’s decision also found that the Ministry had jurisdiction to make an order regarding existing, ongoing and future adverse effects, that the adverse effects do not have to be related to the potential off-site migration of a contaminant, nor must the contaminant be on an orderee’s property at the time the order is made and that the order may require work on-site and off-site to address an adverse effect.

In upholding the Tribunal’s decision, the Divisional Court found that there is no geographical constraint limiting orders to the source property of the contamination and quoted the Tribunal’s observation that “contamination and adverse effects are not constrained by the boundaries of a property, either in initial discharge or because of migration”. The Divisional Court also found that the Tribunal’s interpretation of the Ministry’s order-making jurisdiction is consistent with the Brownfield regime since protection from orders is extinguished under the regime when contaminants migrate from a property that was subject to that regime.

The former appliance manufacturing plant on McFarland Drive that is the property in question in the  Hamilton Beach Brands Canada, Inc. v. Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, 2018 ONSC 5010 (Phtoto Credit: Jason Parks/Picton Gazette)

The order provisions of s.18(2) of the Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.E.19 were at issue in this case. This is the first Divisional Court decision interpreting the geographic extent of the powers set out in s.18(2). The decision confirms that the powers are expansive and should be considered by any current, former or prospective owner or tenant of a contaminated property. We will continue to monitor this case should it be appealed further.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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About the Authors

Mr. Berger has practiced regulatory law for 37 years. He represents nuclear operators and suppliers, waste management operators, renewable energy operators, receivers-in-bankruptcy, municipalities and First Nations. He was an Assistant Crown Attorney in Toronto for 8 years, Senior counsel and Deputy Director for Legal Services/Prosecutions at the Ministry of the Environment for 9 years and Assistant General Counsel at Ontario Power Generation Inc for 14 years.
He is the author of a quarterly loose-leaf service published by Thomson Reuters entitled the Prosecution and Defence of Environmental Offences and the editor of an annual review of environmental law.
Mr. Berger was the President of the International Nuclear Law Association (2008-2009) and the founder, and President of the Canadian Nuclear Law Organization.

Mr. Engel practice all aspects of Environmental and Renewable Energy Law. He advises clients in the development and operation of renewable energy projects, regulatory compliance and civil causes of action.He represent clients before Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal and all levels of court. He assist clients with defences to environmental and other regulatory prosecutions, appeals of environmental orders and civil litigation involving environmental issues including contaminated lands.

Mr. Engel has a Masters degree in Environmental Studies and is Certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a Specialist in Environmental Law.

U.S. Eleventh Circuit Highlights Importance of Safety Training in Affirming Willful Violation of OSHA Standard

Author: H. Bernard Tisdale, Ogletree Deakins, Charlotte, North Carolina)

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently had the opportunity to remind employers not to ignore training employees on safety.  Martin Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor, No. 17-12643 (March 27, 2018).

In late 2015, a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor was installing an HVAC system on the flat roof of a warehouse in Georgia. The installation was to take place adjacent to several unguarded skylights covered only with plastic sheeting. While the onsite foreman had fall protection equipment in his truck, the employees did not wear any fall protection equipment while on the roof. These circumstances ended in tragically: one of the workers fell through a skylight and died as a result of his injuries.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the employer for a willful violation of 29 C.F.R. § 1926.501(b)(4)(i) for failing to protect its employees from falls. The administrative law judge concluded the supervisor’s actions supported a willful classification in that he demonstrated a “reckless disregard for the safety of his crew.” The employer appealed.

To support a willful classification, OSHA must show either (1) the employer knew of the standard and consciously disregarded it or (2) it exhibited such reckless disregard for the employees’ safety that the employer would not have cared that the conduct violated the standard.  Evidently, the supervisor claimed ignorance of the law, and the court analyzed whether the willful classification could be supported under the second standard.

Air conditioner units (HVAC) on a roof of industrial building

The court of appeals was unimpressed by the employer’s arguments. The court noted the supervisor was well aware of the danger posed by the unguarded skylights in that he warned his employees to be careful around them. The supervisor also testified it was his practice not to use fall protection equipment on flat roofs. The supervisor neither instructed anyone to wear fall protection equipment nor provided his employees with the fall protection equipment he had in his truck. Thus, the Court concluded, while the supervisor did not know of the standard’s requirements, he exhibited such reckless disregard for employee safety that he would not have cared that the conduct violated the standard.

This is where all employers may want to take heed. The court went on to observe that the supervisor’s “unfamiliarity serves, if anything, only to underscore the inadequacy of [the employer’s] training program. To hold that such inadequacy—and the resulting unfamiliarity—precludes classification of a violation as willful would perversely allow [the employer] to use its ineffective training as a defense against OSHA’s most serious charge.” The court upheld the willful classification.

Needless to say, a willful citation can have far-reaching ramifications for an employer—from tort liability and criminal penalties for the injury or death to inability to secure future work. While training may seem trivial and time consuming, doing it just might prevent a willful citation and possibly save a life.

This article was originally published on the Ogletree Deakins website.

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About the Author

Mr. Tisdale has wide experience in general civil and employment litigation. This experience ranges from advising clients on preventive measures to avoid formal charges and lawsuits, and representing clients before the United States Court of Appeals, to handling individual employment discrimination cases before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the federal courts as well as handling wrongful discharge and other employment-related litigation in state and federal courts. He regularly represents employers on safety and health matters including advising and defending clients on OSHA compliance issues involving Federal OSHA and state plan states.  He regularly assists clients with contract disputes and non-compete and trade secrets advice and litigation. His experience also includes counseling clients on wage and hour compliance under the Fair Labor Standards Act and performing compliance audits under the FLSA, drafting and reviewing employment contracts and employment

Key Developments in Environmental Law in Canada from 2017

A book on the developments in environmental law in Canada during 2017 was recently published by Thomson Reuters.  Edited by Stanley D. Berger of Fogler Rubinoff LLP, the book includes a number of interesting chapters related to contaminated sites and the issues raised in the Midwest Properties Ltd. v. Thordarson (“Midwest”) court case.  The Midwest case is part of a possible trend in Canada toward awarding damages based on restoration costs rather than diminution in value.  If nothing, else the Midwest Case has introduced uncertainty to the law of damages in contaminated sites cases.

In the chapter written by Natalie Mullins, a litigation partner in the Advocacy and Environmental groups in the Toronto office of Gowling WLG, on the evolution and current state of law on damages in contaminated sites, she states that despite being explicit about awarding compensatory damages only under section 99 of the Alberta Environmental Protection Act (“EPA”) and not at common law, the Alberta Court of Appeal may have implied that restoration costs are the default measure of damages in contaminated sites cases.  She also explores some other critical issues that have arisen post-Midwest, such as:

  • Whether diminution in value is still relevant to the measure of damages;
  • What it means to “restore” a real property;
  • How the court can take a proactive role to ensure that awards made to benefit the environment actually meet that objective; and
  • How defence counsel might prevent similar awards in the future, and how plaintiff’s counsel might use the case to obtain significant damages for their clients.

An interesting point raised by Ms. Mullins in her contaminated sites chapter is that in recent court cases, highlighted with Midwest, court decisions may be paving the way for plaintiffs to recover very significant damage awards for the contaminated of their sites that grossly exceed their actual loss and, in certain circumstances, may be completely unwarranted.

Ms. Mullins questions if the Midwest decision has created the potential for litigants to profit off purchasing contaminated sites and for defendants to face double jeopardy following judgment at trial.

The book is available at online for $144 (Cdn.).

 

Canada: Oil Spill Liability – Kawartha Lakes Continues

By Donna Shier, Partner and Certified Environmental Law Specialist, Joanna Vince, Senior Associate and Raeya Jackiw, Student-at-Law, Willms & Shier

Background

In the most recent decision in the ongoing Kawartha Lakes saga, the Superior Court of Justice found homeowner Mr. Wayne Gendron partly responsible for an oil spill that destroyed his lakeside property.  The Court also found Mr. Gendron’s fuel distributor liable for a portion of the costs.  This decision serves to warn homeowners that a distributor’s delivery of fuel does not mean that their tanks are safe. It also cautions fuel distributors that they may be liable for spills brought about by a homeowner’s negligence.

The Facts

Thompson Fuels (“Thompson”) supplied 700 liters of fuel oil to two tanks in Mr. Gendron’s basement.  Mr. Gendron had installed the fuel tanks himself without proper shut off valves, contrary to industry standards.

During a period of financial difficulty, Mr. Gendron filled these fuel tanks with less expensive stove oil.  The stove oil introduced water and microbes into the tanks, causing the tanks to corrode.  When Thomspon delivered the fuel oil one of the tanks leaked, spilling approximately 600 liters.

In the hours following the fuel delivery Mr. Gendron tried to manage the spill on his own by collecting what he believed to be all of the leaking oil in Tupperware containers.  Approximately 24 hours later, Mr. Gendron called Thompson to complain that it had not delivered his entire shipment of fuel oil – he was short about 600 liters.  Mr. Gendron never called to report the spill to the MOECC’s Spills Action Centre hotline.

The fuel oil migrated under Mr. Gendron’s house, through the City of Kawartha Lake’s drainage system, and into nearby Sturgeon Lake. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) ordered Mr. Gendron and his wife to “ameliorate the adverse effects caused by the discharge of the furnace oil” and “restore the natural environment… to the extent practicable.”  Mr. Gendron began remediation of the contamination of his property and the contamination of Sturgeon Lake.

Early remediation efforts were complicated by the frozen lake and soil. Mr. Gendron’s personal insurance was rapidly exhausted.  His insurer eventually refused to fund further off-site remediation of Sturgeon Lake.

The remediation efforts cost nearly $2 million  and required the demolition of Mr. Gendron’s home.

Sturgeon Lake, Kawatha Lakes Region, Ontario

The City’s MOECC Order

The MOECC ordered the City of Kawartha Lakes to clean up any fuel oil remaining in the City’s culverts and sewers that could re-contaminate Sturgeon Lake.  The City appealed the order first to the Environmental Review Tribunal, then to the Divisional Court, and ultimately to the Ontario Court of Appeal, losing each time. (See our previous article on the Court of Appeal’s decision here.)

Environmental Protection Act Claims

Using its powers under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act (“EPA”), s. 100.1 the City ordered compensation for its remediation costs from Mr. Gendron, Thompson and the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (“TSSA”).  Mr. Gendron, Thompson and the TSSA appealed the order to the Environmental Review Tribunal.  Thompson and the TSSA settled with the City and withdrew their appeals.  Mr. Gendron’s appeal was unsuccessful and he was required to pay more than $300,000 of the City’s costs.  Mr. Gendron then brought a claim for contribution and indemnity against Thompson under EPA, s. 100.1(6).  In this most recent case, the Court found that Mr. Gendron could not make out his EPA claim because ownership and control of the fuel oil had transferred to him when the fuel oil was delivered to him by Thompson.  Mr. Gendron’s claim for contribution under the EPA was dismissed.

About the Authors

Donna Shier, Partner & Certified Environmental Law Specialist.  With almost 40 distinguished years of experience practicing environmental law, Donna Shier is one of Canada’s leading environmental counsel to major industrial corporations. Donna is also frequently called upon by corporate, commercial and real estate lawyers to assist their clients with environmental legal issues, and provides environmental law expertise to external litigation counsel. Donna is a qualified mediator and is an accredited member of the ADR Institute of Canada. Donna is called to the bar of Ontario.

Joanna Vince, Senior Associate.  Joanna Vince has significant expertise representing a wide range of clients with environmental issues, civil claims and prosecutions, orders and appeals. Joanna was admitted to the bar of Ontario in 2011.  Joanna has a B.Sc. (Hons., High Distinction) in biology and environmental science, and a Certificate in Environmental Studies. Joanna’s knowledge of and commitment to environmental issues was recognized by the University of Toronto, which awarded her the Arthur and Sonia Labatt Fellowship and the Douglas Pimlott Scholarship. Also at the University of Toronto, Joanna assisted with preparing academic papers and books as a research assistant on wind power, carbon taxes and climate change.

Raeya Jackiw, Student-at-Law.  Prior to articling at Willms & Shier, Raeya was a summer student at the firm and conducted legal research on issues in environmental, aboriginal, energy, constitutional, administrative, contract, tort, and civil procedure law. She has a Juris Doctor, Certificate in Environmental Law from the University of Toronto, a Masters Degree in Environmental Science from the University of Guelph, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science from Queen’s University.

This article was originally published on the Wilms & Shier website.

The Ninth Circuit Reiterates That “Knowingly” Handling Hazardous Waste Without a Permit Is a General Intent Crime Under RCRA

By Richard E. Stultz

Max Spatig was convicted of knowingly storing and disposing of hazardous waste without a permit and sentenced by the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho to 46 months in prison under 42 U.S.C. § 6928(d)(2)(A). See U.S. v Spatig (2017) 2017 WL 4018398.  At trial, Spatig had sought to introduce evidence on his diminished capacity arguing that he did not have the required state of mind for the offense.  The district court, however, granted the government’s motion in limine to exclude all such evidence because § 6928(d)(2)(A) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) only required general intent and diminished capacity was not a defense to a general intent crime.

For years, Spatig had operated a business which used paint and paint-related materials.  Over time Spatig had accumulated several used containers of this material, some of which ended up on his residential property in Idaho.  In 2005, the county discovered the several containers and reported it to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Working with Spatig, DEQ collected and destroyed most of the containers.  In 2010, Spatig was again found to be storing used containers of paint and paint related materials on another of his properties.  This time the job was too big for local or state authorities so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was notified.  The U.S. EPA determined that the waste was hazardous and that a cleanup was necessary. The U.S. EPA removed approximately 3400 containers and spent $498,562 on the cleanup.  The EPA charged Spatig with violation of § 6928(d)(2)(A) for knowingly storing and disposing of a hazardous waste without a permit from either DEQ or the U.S. EPA.

Paint cans at a property off the Archer-Lyman Highway near Rexburg, Idaho

Spatig appealed his trial conviction and argued on appeal that § 6928(d)(2)(A) required specific intent.  He also took issue with the district court’s enhancement of his base sentence arguing that the cleanup did not result in a “substantial expenditure.”  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, disagreed with Spatig and affirmed the district court.

Under § 6928(d)(2)(A), a person may not “knowingly” treat, store or dispose of a hazardous waste without a permit.  According to the U.S. Supreme Court, “‘knowingly’ merely requires proof of knowledge of the facts that constitute the offense.”  The Ninth Circuit had also held that “knowingly” generally does not require specific intent.  In other words, a defendant’s particular purpose or objective is not required.  The Ninth Circuit previously rejected the argument that § 6928(d)(2)(A) required that a defendant know there was no permit for disposal.  The court held there that “knowingly” only required “that a defendant be aware that he is treating, storing, or disposing of something that he knows is hazardous.”  The court found that RCRA was a public-welfare statute and that “§6928(d)(2)(A) fits within a class of general-intent crimes that protect public health, safety, and welfare.”  Because § 6928(d)(2)(A) only requires general intent, the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s exclusion of evidence at trial of Spatig’s state of mind.

Spatig argued that his sentence enhancement was error because the cleanup did not constitute a “substantial expenditure” required under the federal sentencing guidelines (U.S.S.G. § 2Q1.2(b)(3)).  The Ninth Circuit refused to establish a bright-line rule but noted that sister circuits had found that expenditures under $200,000 were “substantial.”  In upholding the district court, the Ninth Circuit noted that in the instant case the $498,562 underestimated the total cost because it did not include the local agencies’ expenditures.

This holding underscores the long-standing general purpose of environmental laws to protect the public welfare. These statutes do not generally require specific intent—only knowing of the act is required.

This article was first published on the Clark Hill website.

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About the author

Richard E. Stultz brings over eighteen years of experience in the environmental, land development and petroleum industries to bear in his practice of law. In addition to his law degree, he also earned a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering. Richard’s practice is currently focused on environmental litigation.

Richard is experienced in law and motion filings and hearings. He is practiced in written discovery and legal research. Richard has even co-written a First Amendment argument submitted before the California Court of Appeal. He is familiar with California’s environmental laws and regulations.

While in law school, Richard interned at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office in the Real Property/Environment division. He researched and prepared a key memorandum regarding good will compensation in eminent domain.