Friday, August 28, 2015
Eighth Circuit Affirms $2.2 Million Judgment for Clean Water Act Violations at Nebraska Rendering Plant
On August 27, the Eighth Circuit (Wollman, Smith, Benton) issued a decision in United States v. STABL, Inc. STABL owned and operated a rendering plant that discharged wastewater to the Lexington, Nebraska, wastewater treatment plant. STABL’s discharge monitoring reports indicated that the plant repeatedly discharged excessive amounts of pollutants in violation of its pretreatment permit. The United States and the State of Nebraska brought an enforcement action against STABL alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the Nebraska Environmental Protection Act, respectively. The district court granted partial summary judgment on liability for the government and imposed a $2.3 million civil penalty. STABL appealed.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed. First, the court held that STABL’s own discharge monitoring reports were admissible evidence of the company’s violations. A defendant that asserts its own discharge monitoring reports were erroneous bears a heavy burden, which STABL did not meet in this case. Second, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the testimony of an EPA compliance officer as lay testimony rather than as expert testimony. Third, the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing a government expert to update her expert report to incorporate previously unknown information about the economic benefit STABL received from its violations. Fourth, the district court properly allowed a government witness to correct his data, especially when the corrections favored STABL. Fifth, the city’s monitoring records were reliable and admissible evidence of STABL’s violations. Sixth, any error in denying STABL a jury trial on the number of violations was harmless, because the district court could have granted judgment as a matter of law on that issue.