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Watch v. Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control

Superior Court of Delaware

November 27, 2019

Food & Water Watch, Appellant,
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Appellee.

          Submitted: August 30, 2019

         Upon Appellant Food & Water Watch's Motion for Summary Judgment DENIED

         Upon Appellee Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's Motion for Summary Judgment GRANTED

          Kenneth T. Kristl, Esquire, Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic, Widener University Delaware Law School, 4601 Concord Pike, Wilmington, DE 19803, Attorney for Appellant Food & Water Watch.

          William J. Kassab, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, 391 Lukens Drive, New Castle, DE 19720, Attorney for Appellee Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.


          FERRIS W. WHAFTON, J.

         This 27th day of November, 2019, upon consideration of the parties' Cross Motions for Summary Judgment and their corresponding responses, it appears to the Court that:

         1. On October 28, 2015, Appellee, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control ("DNREC") published public notice of a draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System ("NPDES") General Permit ("General Permit") for large, medium, and designated poultry Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations ("CAFOs"). After an extensive hearing and comment process, the General Permit became effective on April 1, 2016. On April 6, 2016, DNREC posted public notice for the final General Permit.

         2. Appellant, Food & Water Watch ("F&WW"), filed an appeal with the Environmental Appeals Board on April 22, 2016, which the Board dismissed on standing grounds. This Court reversed and remanded the appeal to the Board. Pursuant to 7 Del. C. § 6008(g), the parties stipulated to appeal to this Court and have filed cross motions for summary judgment on the merits.

         3. In its Motion for Summary Judgment, F&WW challenges the General Permit, claiming it fails to require that CAFOs monitor effluent discharge in surface waters to ensure compliance with the General Permit's zero discharge requirement.[1]In F&WW's view, the General Permit is contrary to law because: (1) the lack of monitoring is contrary to the Federal Clean Water Act ("CWA") and the regulations issued pursuant to it; (2) the General Permit is contrary to Delaware regulations; and (3) the "Zero Discharge" requirement does not excuse the failure to require discharge monitoring requirements.[2]

         4. In opposition to F&WW's Motion for Summary Judgment, DNREC contends that the General Permit is compliant under both the CWA and Delaware law since neither the Federal, nor Delaware NPDES regulations require that the General Permit include a surface water monitoring requirement.[3] Additionally, DNREC argues that the General Permit's monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting requirements assure compliance with the permit's effluent limitations.[4]

         5. DNREC seeks summary judgment on all of the issues raised by F&WW's summary judgment motion.[5] Additionally, it seeks summary judgment on the issue of ventilation discharges from CAFO production facilities.[6] F&WW did not seek summary judgment on that issue. DNREC maintains it is entitled to summary judgment because there is no issue of material fact and the General Permit is compliant with federal law and Delaware law since it includes measures to prevent all Production Area discharges of manure, litter, and process wastewater.[7]Moreover, DNREC claims that the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") also found that the General Permit adequately addresses those discharges.[8] F&WW argues in opposition that the General Permit fails to regulate discharges of pollutants including litter, dust, feathers, and ammonia from the ventilated poultry confinement houses as required by the CWA and Delaware CAFO regulations.[9]

         6. Superior Court Civil Rule 56(c) provides that summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine issue of material fact...and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[10] The moving party initially bears the burden of establishing both of these elements; if there is such a showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to show that there are material issues of fact for resolution by the ultimate fact-finder.[11] Summary judgment will be appropriate only when, upon viewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the Court finds that there is no genuine issue of material fact.[12] Superior Court Civil Rule 56(h) provides:

Where the parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment and have not presented argument to the Court that there is an issue of fact material to the disposition of either motion, the Court shall deem the motions to be the equivalent of a stipulation for decision on the merits based on the record submitted with the motions.[13]

         Thus, if the Court finds that there are no genuine issues of material fact, it will grant summary judgment in favor of one party.[14]

         7. In Food & Water Watch v. Maryland Department of the Environment, [15] F&WW sued the Maryland Department of the Environment ("MDE"), alleging that the MDE's General Discharge Permit for CAFOs, "neither provided for chemical, biological, and physical monitoring at any outfall or in- stream locations, nor required effluent monitoring, pursuant to 40 C.F.R. § 122.44 and the Clean water Act."[16] The monitoring issue in the case F&WW brought in Maryland is identical, or nearly so, to the claim it advances here. The parties dispute whether this Court properly may consider the Maryland decision since it is unreported.[17] F&WW notes that unreported decisions of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals are neither precedent within the rule of stare decisis, nor persuasive authority in Maryland.[18] There the both the Court of Appeals (Maryland's highest court) and the Court of Special Appeals (Maryland's intermediate appellate court) designate for publication only those opinions that are of substantial interest as precedents.[19] DNREC, on the other hand, points out that Delaware does not share Maryland's restrictive approach to unreported decisions.[20] In deciding cases, Delaware courts have cited any number of sources when undertaking to resolve cases, including, but far from limited to, unreported decisions, statutes and rules of other jurisdictions, books, reports, articles (including newspaper and magazine articles), legislative materials, administrative and executive materials, and a wide variety of internet and electronic sources. The distinction between reported and unreported decisions seems to be a vestige of a time when unreported decisions were not widely available to lawyers, and reported decisions were found exclusively in hardback reporter series. Now, all decisions, whether designated for publication or not, are readily and rapidly accessible to everyone through internet reporting services. Given that change in the legal publishing landscape, the Court can fathom no reason why it should not entertain the considered opinion of Maryland's Court of Special Appeals addressing the very issue raised by F&WW both in Maryland and here.

         8. It is clear to the Court that the CWA does not require surface water monitoring on zero discharge permits. F&WW attempted the same challenge to a MDE NPDES General Permit regulating CAFOs, relying on some of the same case law it relies upon here.[21] The Maryland Court of Special Appeals combed through the CWA meticulously, analyzed the case law carefully, and determined that the CWA foresees situations where a state may promulgate Best Management Practices ("BMPs") in the place of numeric Effluent Limitation Guidelines ("ELGs").[22] Thus, when F&WW argued that there must be strict adherence to the EPA's guidelines in Maryland-as it does here-the court disagreed, holding that the EPA affords states great flexibility in developing effluent limitations in meeting the CWA standard.[23]This Court has carefully considered the parties' ...

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