Legal analytics data shows a drop in environmental litigation in federal court in the past decade; Environmental groups like the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians continue to be the top filers advocating for the environment.
A week ago today, Lex Machina, a LexisNexis company, released its inaugural Environmental Litigation Report, the first and only report of its kind that illuminates data-driven trends and insights from more than 13,000 U.S. District Court case filings involving a dispute over regulation of the environment under any federal statute, including pollution, the use of natural resources, protection of plant and animal ecosystems, and other ways in which humans interact with nature. To request a full copy of the report, please visit http://pages.lexmachina.com/Environmental-Report_LP-email.html.
The Environmental Litigation report is organized by case type, similar to the way it is organized within Lex Machina’s Legal Analytics platform, with data and analytics covering the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act), NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), and RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act). While the report covers cumulative data from 2009 to 2018, it also focuses on the three-year time period from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2018 to showcase recent litigation trends and data, including case filings, case timing, most active law firms and parties, case resolutions, findings, remedies and damages awarded.
“Environmental litigation highlights the conflicting interests of advocacy groups, large companies, and the government. There are public interests in protecting animals and natural resources, on the one hand, and development and business interests on the other,” said Chuan Qin, environmental legal data expert at Lex Machina and author of the report. “The Environmental Litigation Report looks at the disparate claims brought by these litigants that affect the natural environment and extracts data trends to provide attorneys with unprecedented insights into party behavior that can play a key role in determining case strategy.”
Impact of Deepwater Horizon on Environmental Litigation Analytics
Environmental case filings are strongly affected by multidistrict litigation (“MDL”), particularly the MDL surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. For example, of the more than 13,000 environmental cases filed between 2009 through 2018, nearly 7,000 cases are associated with the Deepwater Horizon litigation, which began shortly after the spill occurred in April 2010. Spill-related case filings spiked in 2013 and 2016 – likely related to court-ordered filing deadlines for Plaintiffs who opted out of the Economic and Property Damages Settlement – and filings continue into 2019. More than $13.6 billion in damages relating to Deepwater Horizon have been awarded by the courts to date, including natural resource damages and civil money penalties.
Other report highlights covering the period from 2016 through 2018 include:
- When MDL-associated cases are excluded from the data, three California districts, the District of Columbia and Western District of Washington make up the top five districts with the most environmental case filings.
- Judge Wiley Young Daniel from the District of Colorado presided over the most environmental cases filed from 2016 to 2018.
- Government entities were the most active parties in environmental litigation both as plaintiffs and defendants. The federal government filed almost three times as many cases as the second most active plaintiff, the Center for Biological Diversity.
- The most active defendants include government agencies, individuals in their capacity as government officials and large corporations. Exxon was named in lawsuits relating to its oil drilling. Honeywell was named in a large number of CERCLA cases.
About Lex Machina
Lex Machina’s award-winning Legal Analytics® platform fundamentally changes how companies and law firms compete in the business and practice of law. The company provides strategic insights on judges, lawyers, law firms, parties, and other critical information across 14 federal practice areas and the Delaware Court of Chancery. This allows law firms and companies to predict the behaviors and outcomes that different legal strategies will produce, enabling them to win cases and close business.
Legal Analytics was named “Best Legal Analytics” by readers of The Recorder in 2014, 2015 and 2016, received the “Best New Product of the Year” award in 2015 from the American Association of Law Libraries, and “Best Decision Management Solution” from AI Breakthrough in 2019. The company was named a “Legal A.I. Leader” by The National Law Journal in 2018 and was a finalist in the 2019 LegalWeek Product Innovation awards. Based in Silicon Valley, Lex Machina is part of LexisNexis, a leading global provider of legal, regulatory and business information and analytics. For more information, please visit www.lexmachina.com.
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