Iowa Supreme Court Rules Pollution Suit Not Preempted by Clean Air Act
Striking a blow to defendants seeking to limit the scope of toxic tort claims based on air emissions, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a putative class action filed by residents asserting tort claims against a corn milling facility was not preempted by the federal Clean Air Act (CAA) or Iowa state law. The court also refused to dismiss the case based on the political question doctrine. See Freeman v. Grain Processing Corp., No. 13-0723 (Iowa June 13, 2014).
Eight residents of Muscatine, Iowa filed a lawsuit on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated Muscatine residents against Defendant Grain Processing Corporation (GPC). The Plaintiff residents alleged that the operations at Defendant’s corn milling facility caused harmful pollutants and noxious odors to invade their land, thereby diminishing the full use and enjoyment of their properties. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant based on preemption under the CAA and the states’ statutory equivalent to the CAA, and accepted Defendant’s argument that the issues raised by the residents amount to political questions that should not be resolved by courts.
The Plaintiffs appealed, and the Supreme Court of Iowa reversed and remanded. The Court noted that the CAA does not expressly preempt the nuisance and common law actions at issue, and further found that there is no implied preemption in the CAA. The Court also found that the state environmental statutes and regulations did not preempt the plaintiffs’ claims, noting that enforcement of tort claims was not inconsistent with the state’s regulatory framework. In addition, the Court rejected Defendant’s political question argument, finding that there was no “textual constitutional commitment” of the issues raised in this case to another branch of government.