July 09, 2019

In Brief

John R. Jacus

Clean Air Act

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Env’t v. Diesel Power Gear LLC, No. 2:17-CV-32, 2019 WL 1126347 (D. Utah Mar. 12, 2019).
The U.S. District Court for the District of Utah granted partial summary judgment to an environmental nongovernmental organization (NGO) for violations of the Clean Air Act by several Utah companies and their corporate officer defendants (who are, incidentally, also performers in the reality television show Diesel Brothers) for illegally modifying diesel trucks to defeat emission controls, selling parts to achieve the same end, and selling such modified trucks, among other actions. Defendants moved for summary judgment, but the court denied the motion in large measure, and granted the plaintiff’s cross motion except with respect to the scope of injunctive relief sought. In so ruling, the court found that plaintiff did have standing to sue, since the alleged violations contributed to air pollution along the Wasatch Front in the Salt Lake City area, and plaintiff’s members were injured in fact by such pollution, which was redressable by the relief being sought in most respects. Though defendants argued that plaintiff’s members’ injuries were not fairly traceable to their conduct, since their contribution to air pollution was so insignificant, the court rejected this argument and adopted a standard first applied in Clean Water Act cases involving multiple parties discharging pollution into a single waterway. The court held that plaintiff had met the standard by showing defendants discharged a pollutant that causes or contributes to the kinds of injuries suffered by its members along the Wasatch Front. Defendants also argued that the Clean Air Act did not permit civil enforcement against responsible corporate officers, and individual defendants should therefore be dismissed. In evaluating this argument, the court followed decisions by several other courts under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, concluding that the individual defendants can be held liable in this case to the extent that they knew of their respective company’s Clean Air Act civil violations, had the authority to prevent or correct those violations, and failed to do so. Finally, the court held that defendants can be liable for violations of the Clean Air Act by (1) selling trucks with parts that defeat emission controls even if they did not install them, provided they knew or should have known of their presence, and (2) giving such a truck away as a prize, since the benefit to their television show and reputation was sufficient consideration to qualify as a sale under the statute.

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