News and Events Involving Environmental Law, Published by Chicago Environmental Attorney Dave Scriven-Young
of Peckar & Abramson, P.C. -- (312) 239-9722
Archive for September, 2015
  • Seventh Circuit Finds Superfund Liability Limited by Release Signed in 1920

    Posted by on September 24, 2015
    The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a 95-year old agreement released a defendant from contribution costs under the Superfund statute.  In Peoples Gas Light & Coke Company v. Beazer East, Inc., Peoples Gas sued to recover costs it had incurred in conducting environmental investigation and removal activities at a property that it partially owned.  At issue in this case was ...
  • Elmhurst Completes Environmental Controls at Pumping Stations

    Posted by on September 23, 2015
    According to news reports, the City of Elmhurst has completed the Salt Creek (Greenway) Trail Pumping Stations Water Quality and Landscape Enhancements project involving improvements at four pumping stations.  "The goal of this project is to model the proper use of erosion and sedimentation control techniques using best management practices and educational displays.  This work will help to manag...
  • New Event Listing: Volunteer with National Public Lands Day

    Posted by on September 22, 2015
    Check out the events page for a new event coming up this Saturday, September 26, 2015: National Public Lands Day.  This looks like a great day to volunteer and spend time in our public lands, and there are many sites in Illinois.  For more information, click here....
  • U.S. Senate Bill Would Eliminate Duplicative Permitting

    Posted by on
    According to news reports, a "recently submitted Senate bill, the Sensible Environmental Protection Act, amends FIFRA [the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act] and CWA [the Clean Water Act] to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or a state from requiring a permit for a discharge into navigable waters of a pesticide authorized under FIFRA and clarifies the permitting ...

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    The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the federal government’s ability to criminally prosecute environmental activists who destroy property under the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (“AETA”).

    In United States v. Johnson, the defendants travelled from Los Angeles, California to a mink farm in Morris, Illinois. The mink farm was in the business of breeding, raising, and selling minks to fur manufacturers. At the mink farm, the defendants released approximately 2000 minks from their cages. They also removed portions of the fence surrounding the mink farm to help the minks escape, and they destroyed the minks’ breeding cards, which were needed to sell the minks to a furrier. In addition, they poured caustic substances on two farm vehicles and spray-painted the words “Liberation is Love” on a barn. The vandalism caused between $120,000 and $200,000 worth of damage. The defendants then began traveling to a fox farm in Roanoke, Illinois, which bred foxes to sell to fur manufacturers. They planned to damage the fox farm as well, but they were arrested by local law enforcement before they arrived at the fox farm. The defendants were charged in state court with possession of burglary tools and were convicted. They were sentenced to 30 months imprisonment.

    Then, the defendants were charged with violating the AETA by the federal government. Count I of the indictment alleged that they conspired to travel in interstate commerce for the purpose of damaging and interfering with the operation of an animal enterprise, and in connection with that purpose, damaged the property of an animal enterprise. Count II alleged that the defendants damaged real and personal property used by an animal enterprise. The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment against them, asserting that the AETA was facially overbroad, was unconstitutionally vague, and violated substantive due process because it labeled persons who committed the act as “terrorists”. The District Court denied the motion to dismiss.

    The Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling that rejected all of the defendants’ arguments. In particular, the defendants suggested that the AETA prohibited advocacy that caused damage to only intangible property such as profits or goodwill. The court rejected that argument and held that the AETA prohibited destruction of or damage to tangible items and property owned by the animal enterprise. In fact, the court looked at the legislative history of the AETA, which reinforced the conclusion that it was not intended to criminalize speech or expressive conduct that caused damage only to the animal enterprise’s profits or goodwill. Several legislators made statements indicating that, while the statute was being passed to combat the violence being perpetrated against animal enterprises as well as people and entities connected to animal enterprises, Congress was aware of the importance of protecting the First Amendment right to engage in lawful protest against animal enterprises. In particular, the court looked at a speech by Senator Feinstein stating: “I fully recognize that peaceful picketing and public demonstrations against animal testing should be recognized as part of our valuable and sacred right to free expression. For this reason, all conduct protected by the First Amendment is expressly excluded from the scope of this legislation. This law effectively protects the actions of the law-abiding protester while carefully distinguishing the criminal activity of extremists.” In summary, the court found that the text of the statute as well as the legislative history made clear that the statute does not criminalize speech or expressive conduct that causes damage only to intangible profits or goodwill of an animal enterprise.

    The Seventh Circuit had an easy task in this case, deciding to interpret the statute to criminalize destructive conduct but keeping the door open to reasonable protests that do not harm private property. Environmental activists need to be aware of this line in the sand that has been drawn by Congress and the courts.
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