Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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This water rights appeal stemmed from two consolidated subcases, litigated in the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA). The subcases concerned the United States’ late claims (Late Claims) filed in January 2013, which asserted “supplemental beneficial use storage water rights” claims under the constitutional method of appropriation to store water in priority after flood-control releases. The special master recommended that the State’s motion for summary judgment be granted, concluding the Late Claims should be disallowed because, as the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (Director) recommended, the Late Claims asserted rights that had not been claimed when the underlying water rights were adjudicated and decreed. Alternatively, the special master concluded the Late Claims should be disallowed because, as intervenor Black Canyon Irrigation District (BCID) asserted, the decreed water rights already authorized the rights the Late Claims were asserting, thus, unnecessary. The district court agreed with the special master insofar as the Late Claims were precluded. However, the district court rejected the special master’s alternative recommendation that the Late Claims were duplicative of the rights already decreed and unnecessary. The district court entered judgment reflecting these conclusions. BCID timely appeals and the Idaho Supreme Court affirm the district court’s conclusion the special master exceeded the district court’s orders of reference by making the “alternative basis” recommendation. View "Black Canyon Irrig Dist v. State / Suez Water" on Justia Law

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This water rights appeal stems from two consolidated subcases, numbers 65-23531 and 65-23532, litigated in the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA). The subcases concerned the United States’ late claims filed in January 2013, which asserted “supplemental beneficial use storage water rights” claims under the constitutional method of appropriation to store water in priority after flood-control releases. The special master recommended that the State’s motion for summary judgment be granted, concluding the Late Claims should be disallowed because, as the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (Director) recommended, the Late Claims asserted rights that had not been claimed when the underlying water rights were adjudicated and decreed. Alternatively, the special master concluded the Late Claims should be disallowed because, as intervenor Black Canyon Irrigation District (BCID) asserted, the decreed water rights already authorized the rights the Late Claims now assert, and hence, the Late Claims were unnecessary. The district court agreed with the special master insofar as the Late Claims were precluded. However, the district court rejected the special master’s alternative recommendation that the Late Claims were duplicative of the rights already decreed and unnecessary. The district court entered judgment reflecting these conclusions. The United States appealed the district court’s ruling on preclusion, but finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "United States v. Black Canyon Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law

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Philip Hudson appealed a district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the State of Idaho, the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners and the Idaho Department of Lands (collectively, the “State”). The district court found that Hudson violated the Idaho Lake Protection Act (the “LPA”) when he placed fill in the bed of Priest Lake without a permit. Hudson disputed the location of the Ordinary High Water Mark (the “OHWM”) and argued the fill was placed on his own property to protect it from erosion. Hudson argued that there was an issue of material fact regarding the location of the OHWM, which made summary judgment improper. Finding the dispute regarding the OHWM was not a material fact in determining whether Hudson violated the LPA, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment. View "Idaho Board of Land v. Hudson" on Justia Law

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At issue in this matter was landowners’ recourse against an irrigation district for diverting a portion of their water source to other landowners within the district. The appellants-landowners owned farms in Jerome County; A&B Irrigation District (the “District”) distributed water to these farms and others throughout its service area in Jerome and Minidoka Counties. The District serves two distinct sub-areas in its district: Unit A and Unit B. The water the District distributes comes from two sources: (1) surface water from the Snake River and associated reservoirs, and (2) groundwater from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. These two water sources were historically what separated Units A and B, and many owners based their land choices in the 1950s on the water source. Unit A farms have received surface water exclusively since the District’s inception. For decades Unit B farms received only groundwater, but the District converted approximately 1400 Unit B acres to surface water in the 1990s in response to decreasing groundwater supply. Appellants claimed the Project primarily benefited Unit B landowners at the expense of Unit A by diverting a portion of Unit A’s sole water source (surface water) onto Unit B land and “diluting” their annual water supply. Additionally, the District divided Project costs equally among all landowners despite what Appellants claim was the Project’s primary purpose: to help sustain Unit B farms as their groundwater supply continues to decline. The landowners brought an action for a declaratory judgment regarding their constitutional water and property rights. They also sought injunctive relief against the irrigation district for a breach of fiduciary duty. The district court granted the irrigation district’s motion to dismiss on all three of the landowners’ claims. The landowners’ appeal centered on two issues with respect to their three claims against the District: the legal standard under which the district court dismissed Appellants’ claims, and the court’s substantive determinations under that standard. Appellants contend the district court erred both procedurally and substantively in dismissing all three counts in its amended complaint. Procedurally, they claimed the district court improperly considered matters outside the pleadings in dismissing all three claims under Rule 12(b)(6), rather than converting to the Rule 56 summary judgment standard. Substantively, Appellants contended that Counts I and III were justiciable as presented on the face of their amended complaint, and that res judicata did not bar relief under Count II. The Idaho Supreme Court found after review that the landowners failed to demonstrate justiciable claims in their Counts I and III, and that the district court erred in dismissing their property rights claim in Count II by considering matters outside the pleadings under Rule 12(b)(6). View "Paslay v. A&B Irrigation District" on Justia Law

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Schweitzer Fire District (the District) appealed a district court’s grant of a writ of prohibition on behalf of Schweitzer Basin Water Company (the Company) that prevented the District from taking proposed enforcement action against the Company related to perceived flow-rate deficiencies of fire hydrants owned by third-party homeowners and installed on the Company’s private water system. The district court granted the writ of prohibition after concluding that the District did not have jurisdiction over the Company under Idaho Code section 41-259. The district court awarded attorney fees and costs to the Company after determining that the District’s position was without a reasonable basis in fact or law. The District timely appealed. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court found the district court correctly concluded the District did not have jurisdiction over the Company’s water system under 41-259. Finding no other grounds for reversal, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "Schweitzer Basin Water Co. v. Schweitzer Fire Dist." on Justia Law

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The issue presented in this contract dispute was whether personal jurisdiction was proper over an out-of-state defendant. It centered on two out-of-state companies, one of which, H2O Environmental, Inc. (“H2O”), was registered to do business in Idaho and maintained an office in Boise. H2O filed suit in Idaho against the other company, Proimtu MMI, LLC, alleging breach of contract and seeking reimbursement for the payment of employment taxes for Proimtu employees. Proimtu moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and the district court granted the motion. The Idaho Supreme Court found that Proimtu purposefully availed itself of the benefits and protection of Idaho laws. The exercise of personal jurisdiction by Idaho courts over Proimtu was therefore constitutionally proper. View "H20 Environmental v. Proimtu MMI" on Justia Law

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The Bingham County District Court affirmed a ruling by the Idaho Department of Water Resources denying the City of Blackfoot’s (City) application for a water right to be offset by mitigation through another water right. The district court ruled that the Department was correct in ruling that latter right could not be used for groundwater recharge without an approved transfer application and could not be used as mitigation for former right until such transfer was approved. The City appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "City of Blackfoot v. Spackman" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a permit application to obtain a water right filed by the respondents, North Snake Ground Water District, Magic Valley Ground Water District and Southwest Irrigation District (“the Districts”), to appropriate water from Billingsley Creek on real property owned by appellant Rangen, Inc. After the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources denied the application in a final order, the Districts petitioned for judicial review. The district court set aside the Director’s final order. Rangen appealed. Rangen historically diverted water from Billingsley Creek. Before the Department ruled on the Districts’ April 2013 application, Rangen filed a competing application on February 3, 2014. Rangen’s application sought to divert 59 cfs from Billingsley Creek for fish propagation, with the same source and point of diversion elements as the Districts had requested. On January 2, 2015, Rangen’s application was approved for 28.1 cfs for fish propagation with a priority date of February 3, 2014. This permit had apparently not been challenged. Department employee James Cefalo presided over a hearing on the Districts’ application and subsequently issued a Preliminary Order Issuing Permit in which he found that the application was made in good faith, did not conflict with the local public interest, and otherwise satisfied the necessary requirements. Therefore, he approved a conditional permit authorizing the Districts to appropriate 12 cfs from Billingsley Creek for mitigation purposes with a priority date of April 3, 2013. Rangen filed a protest of the hearing officer’s preliminary order with the Director. After the parties briefed the issues, the Director subsequently issued a final order overturning the hearing officer’s decision and denying the application. The Director concluded that the Districts’ application was made in bad faith and that the application was not in the local public interest. The Districts petitioned for judicial review, asserting that the Director abused his discretion and exceeded his authority in denying their application. On judicial review, the district court set aside the Director’s final order, concluding that the application was neither made in bad faith nor counter to the local public interest. The district court also rejected Rangen’s arguments that the Districts’ application was incomplete or speculative and that mitigation is not a recognized beneficial use of water under Idaho law. Rangen appealed again. After review of the district court record, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in its judgment and affirmed. View "Rangen, Inc v. North Snake Ground Water Dist." on Justia Law

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This was an appeal of a district court order affirming in part an order issued by the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (“IDWR”). In response to a delivery call filed by Rangen, Inc., the Director had issued an order curtailing certain junior-priority ground water pumping in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (“ESPA”). The order provided that the junior-priority ground water users could avoid curtailment by participating in an approved mitigation plan. The Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc. (“IGWA”) filed several mitigation plans for approval. The Director issued an order conditionally approving IGWA’s Fourth Mitigation Plan, which proposed leasing water from another surface water right holder and piping the water to the Rangen facility. Rangen petitioned for review. The district court upheld the Director’s order in significant part. Rangen appealed. Finding no reversible error with the district court's order, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rangen, Inc. v. Dept of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc. (“IGWA”) and the City of Pocatello filed separate appeals to a district court order, affirming in part and vacating in part an order issued by the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (“IDWR”) that curtailed junior ground water pumping in the Eastern Snake Plains Aquifer (“ESPA”). In late 2011, Rangen, Inc. petitioned for a delivery call, alleging that junior ground water pumping in the ESPA was materially injuring its water rights sourced from the Martin-Curren Tunnel. The Director held an evidentiary hearing in the Spring of 2013. As relevant to these appeals, the Director concluded: (1) that the Martin-Curren Tunnel was a surface water source and, therefore, not subject to the Ground Water Act; (2) ground water pumping in the ESPA was materially injuring Rangen’s water rights and that a curtailment order was appropriate; (3) however, the benefits of curtailment diminished significantly if the order extended to pumping east of a volcanic rift zone in the ESPA known as the Great Rift. The Director issued a curtailment order on January 24, 2014, mandating that ground water users located west of the Great Rift, with water rights junior to Rangen’s, refrain from diverting water from the ESPA. Rangen and IGWA petitioned for judicial review of the Director’s decision. The district court upheld the Director’s decision in significant part but vacated the Director’s application of a trim line at the Great Rift, concluding that the Director did not have a legal basis to apply a trim line in this case. Rangen, IGWA, and Pocatello each appealed. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court, save and except for the district court’s vacation of the Great Rift trim line, which was reversed. View "Idaho Ground Water Appropriators v. Dept of Water Resources" on Justia Law