On December 9, MBG’s Matthew Owens presented oral argument in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on behalf of two not-for-profit organizations working on environmental justice issues, the Public Interest Law Center (“PILC”) and Philly Thrive. The organizations were Amici Curiae in the case Baptiste v. Bethlehem Landfill Co., No. 19-1692 (3d Cir.).
The plaintiffs in the Baptiste case brought a class action lawsuit against a nearby landfill for emitting noxious odors that substantially reduced their use and enjoyment of their homes. The district court dismissed the private nuisance claims, concluding that if a nuisance harms many properties beyond the polluter’s closest neighbors, then it must be deemed a public nuisance and cannot also be a private nuisance. And with the nuisance thus deemed only public, the district court also ruled, the plaintiffs’ claims for private property damages were barred. In essence, the district court’s ruling immunized the worst polluters from responsibility for their invasions of property rights.
After the case was appealed to the Third Circuit, MBG attorneys Matthew Owens and Sarah Siskind filed as Amici Curiae (“friend of the court”) to offer an outside perspective on why the private nuisance class actions at stake in the case are essential for protecting property rights in environmental justice communities—that is, low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately burdened by pollution—and why the district court’s ruling would have a devastating impact on these communities, which lack resources to bring their claims individually. The Amici brief also argued that the district court’s ruling was contrary to established nuisance doctrine recognized by Pennsylvania, the Restatement of Torts, and the majority of other state courts, and irrational.
Over the last decade, MBG’s environmental practice group has been representing not-for-profit organizations, community groups, and small property owners and renters against corporate polluters throughout the Midwest.
PILC is a not-for-profit services organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For 50 years, PILC has used high-impact legal strategies to advance the civil, social, and economic rights of communities facing discrimination, inequality, and poverty. PILC’s environmental justice practice supports historically disinvested communities in advocating for sustainable and equitable neighborhoods. Currently, PILC is working with environmental justice communities and community groups to secure protections for residents facing unwanted development in their neighborhoods, secure legal title to community-owned greenspace and community gardens, and explore legal strategies to protect vulnerable communities from toxic pollutants.
Philly Thrive is a not-for-profit organization in Philadelphia organizing low-income communities and communities of color around environmental justice issues. It works to develop leaders in communities disproportionately impacted by pollution. Philly Thrive’s current campaign is focused on a fossil-fuel refinery that is responsible for over half of the toxic air emissions in Philadelphia.
A copy of the Amici Curae brief may be accessed here.
For more information about Matthew click here.