Professor Daniel P. Selmi on the Year in Review: Ten Environmental Law Cases from 2010

By Professor Daniel Selmi, Professor of Law, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

Get the latest expert analysis on important environmental law cases from 2010. The article discusses trends over the last year in environmental and land use case law from California appellate courts and the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals involving appeals from district courts in California. The article originally appeared as the Lead Article for the January 2011 issue of the "California Environmental Law Reporter" (Matthew Bender).

Professor Selmi writes:

The year 2010 brought several trends in the environmental and land use case law. First, the California Supreme Court continued its foray into disputes over the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) [Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21000 et seq.], issuing four separate decisions. As has been its practice, the decisions are narrow rather than groundbreaking, deciding the issues largely in line with previous precedents. Second, the year brought important decisions by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals involving hazardous waste cleanup under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) [42 U.S.C. § 9601]. One involved a dispute over an issue that, at this point in CERCLA's development, one would think would be long-settled: what is an "owner" under the Act?

Third, there were fewer significant land use cases over the past year, a development that may reflect the weakened state of the California economy. Finally, many of the environmental and land use cases are strikingly complicated. The complexity ranged broadly, from issues involving the application of the statute of limitations in nuisance actions to service of process in challenges to subdivision approvals. On the whole, they warn that practicing environmental and land use law in California is a job for experts; it is a hard area for practitioners to dabble in.

As in the other "year in review" articles published in the Reporter over the past dozen years, the ground rules are simple. The cases were chosen from opinions from December 2009 through November 2010. The criteria for choosing were imprecise and unquestionably arbitrary: a mix of doctrinal significance, variety in the areas of law discussed, and interesting facts. Decisions chosen from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals were limited to those involving appeals from district courts located in California.

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Dan Selmi is a Professor of Law and Fritz B. Burns Chair in Real Property, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. Professor Selmi is one of the editorial consultants for the six volume treatise, "California Environmental Law and Land Use Practice" (LexisNexis Matthew Bender).