Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals
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In 1983, Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 10101-10270, authorizing the Department of Energy to enter into contracts with nuclear facilities for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW). Congress mandated that, under the Standard Contract, DOE dispose of SNF and HLW beginning not later than January 31, 1998. In 1983, DOE entered into a Standard Contract with Consolidated Edison under which DOE agreed to accept SNF stored at the Indian Point facility. Following DOE’s breach, the Claims Court awarded two categories of damages: wet storage costs for continued operation of its Unit 1 spent fuel pool and regulatory fees paid to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Federal Circuit reversed the awards, affirmed denial of damages for the cost of financing mitigation activities, but reversed denial of damages for indirect overhead costs associated with mitigation. The company had chosen to prioritize removal of Unit 2 SNF and Unit 1 material would not have been removed by the time at issue; the company did not establish that the breach caused an increase in fees to the NRC. View "Consol. Edison Co. of NY, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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During World War II, the U.S. contracted with oil companies for the production of aviation fuel, which resulted in production of hazardous waste. The waste was dumped at the California McColl site. Several decades later, the oil companies were held liable for cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, and sought reimbursement from the government based on the contracts. The district court entered summary judgment on liability, finding that the contracts contained open ended indemnification agreements and encompassed costs for CERLCA cleanup, and awarded $87,344,345.70. The trial judge subsequently discovered that his wife had inherited 97.59 shares of stock in a parent to two of the oil companies. The judge ultimately vacated his summary judgment rulings; severed two companies from the suit and directed the clerk to reassign their claims to a different judge; reinstated his prior decisions with respect to two remaining companies; and entered judgment against the government ($68,849,505). The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded for reassignment to another judge. The judge was required to recuse himself under 28 U.S.C. 455(b)(4) and the error was not harmless. View "Shell Oil Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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On GE’s complaint, the International Trade Commission conducted an investigation and, rejecting the findings of an ALJ determined that GE's 039 patent was not invalid by reason of obviousness or written description, that variable speed wind turbines imported by Mitsubishi do not infringe any of GE's patents, and that the domestic industry requirement is not met as to any of the patents. The Commission concluded that the Tariff Act, 19 U.S.C. 1337, was not violated. The 039 patent subsequently expired. The Federal Circuit affirmed that the 221 patent is not infringed, but reversed the determination of no domestic industry as to the 985 patent, and remanded. View "Gen. Elec. Co. v. Int'l Trade Comm'n" on Justia Law

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In 2008 the district court calculated damages for the government's partial breach of the Standard Contract for disposal of spent nuclear fuel using the 1991 Annual Capacity Report and the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The Federal Circuit, having set the 1987 ACR as the appropriate acceptance rate for a causation analysis under the Standard Contract, remanded. On remand, the district court set the amount of damages at $89,004,415. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that the new judgment accounts for the proper causation times and principle. View "Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1983, Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 10101–10270, to provide for government collection and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The NWPA authorized the Department of Energy to contract for disposal. In return for payment of fees into the Nuclear Waste Fund, the Standard Contract provided that the DOE would begin to dispose of SNF and HLW not later than January 31, 1998. Because collection and disposal did not begin, courts held that the DOE had breached the Standard Contract with the nuclear energy industry. The trial court found breach of plaintiff's contract, but granted summary judgment in favor of the government regarding the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and set damages for the breach at $10,014,114 plus the cost of borrowed funds for financing construction of a dry fuel storage project. On reconsideration, the trial court reduced damages to $9,735,634 and denied the cost of borrowed funds. The Federal Circuit affirmed with respect to borrowed fund, but and reversed denial of overhead costs. View "System Fuels, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Tribes share an interest in a Wyoming Reservation. Consolidated suits, filed in 1979, claimed that the government breached fiduciary and statutory duties by mismanaging the Reservation's natural resources and income derived from exploitation of those resources. The Court of Federal Claims divided the suit into phases. One addressed sand and gravel and has been settled. The other two phases were devoted to oil and gas issues. An issue concerning the Government's failure to collect royalties after October, 1973 has been resolved. The final phase concerned pre-1973 oil and gas royalty collection and a series of discrete oil-and-gas issues. In 2007, the court granted the government judgment on the pleadings, finding that the claim was not filed within six years of the date on which it first accrued. The Federal Circuit vacated, finding that the claim asserted a continuing trespass, so that the Tribes can seek damages for trespasses which occurred within six years of the filing of this suit and all trespasses that occurred after the filing of this suit. The Tribes must establish that the government had a duty to eject trespassers from the parcels. View "Shoshone Indian Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, which owned a nuclear power plant, entered into the standard U.S. Department of Energy contract, under which DOE agreed to collect spent nuclear fuel (SNF) no later than 1998. DOE never began collecting SNF and has breached contracts nationwide. Massachusetts restructured the electric utility industry and, in 1999, the plant sold for $80 million; buyer agreed to accept decommissioning responsibilities for $428 million. The district court awarded $40 million for the portion of the decommissioning fund corresponding to projected post-decommissioning SNF-related costs attributable to DOE’s continuing breach. The court awarded the buyer $4 million in mitigation damages, including direct and overhead costs for new spent fuel racks and fees paid to the NRC. The Federal Circuit reversed in part and remanded. Plaintiff cannot recover damages under a diminution-of-value theory in a partial breach setting. The sale of assets does not alter the principle that when the breaching party has not repudiated and is still expected to perform, anticipated damages are not recoverable until incurred. A non-breaching party may recover from the government indirect overhead costs associated with mitigation and the costs of financing those activities. View "Boston Edison Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1983, Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, authorizing contracts with nuclear plant utilities, generators of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HWL) under which the gVovernment would accept and dispose of nuclear waste in return for the generators paying into a Nuclear Waste Fund, 42 U.S.C. 10131. In 1983, the Department of Energy entered into the standard contract with plaintiff to accept SNF and HLW. In 1987, Congress amended the NWPA to specify that the repository would be in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The government has yet to accept spent fuel. The current estimate is that the government will not begin accepting waste until 2020, if at all. In 2001, plaintiff began constructing dry storage facilities to provide on-site storage for SNF rather than to continue using an outside company (ISFSI project). The Court of Federal Claims awarded $142,394,294 for expenses due to DOE’s breach; 23,657,791 was attributable to indirect overhead costs associated with the ISFSI project. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Breach of the standard contract caused plaintiff to build, staff, and maintain an entirely new facility; the ISFSI facilities had not existed prior to the breach and were necessitated by the breach. View "So. CA Edison Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Department of Energy breached its agreement to accept spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power utilities, including plaintiff, a Wisconsin power cooperative, no longer in operation. Plaintiff maintains 38 metric tons of spent uranium on its property. Had DOE not breached the agreement, the material would have been removed in 2006. Plaintiff joined a consortium of 11 utilities to develop a private repository. The district court awarded about $37.6 million: $16.6 million for maintaining the fuel on-site from 1998 to 2006, $12 million for investment in the consortium, and $6.1 million for various overhead costs associated with mitigation. The Federal Circuit vacated in part. The claims court properly determined that plaintiff was entitled to damages for the entire period, 1999-2006; properly awarded overhead; properly offset the consortium costs; but should have limited the award with respect to the consortium to expenses incurred for mitigation.

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The U.S. Department of Energy entered into standard contracts to accept spent nuclear fuel from utility companies by January 1998 and has not yet accepted delivery, resulting in suits by several nuclear utilities. The district court awarded Dominion damages. The Federal Circuit affirmed, first holding that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 10222, permitted assignment by Dominion's predecessor, that the assignment complied with the Act and the contract, and that the assignment included the right to pre-assignment damages. The district court properly denied discovery on the government's claim that Dominion has benefited from its breach because it has not yet been required to pay a one-time fee for disposal of waste generated prior to 1983.