NOV 28, 2022
Federal Jury Sides with Inland Empire Waterkeeper in Massive Clean Water Act Victory
- The jury found Corona Clay Company liable for thousands of days of violations.
- This is the first jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff in a Clean Water Act citizen suit since the United States Supreme Court’s April 2020 decision in County of Maui v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund.
On Monday, November 21, Inland Empire Waterkeeper and Orange County Coastkeeper emerged from an eight-day jury trial in federal court with a massive win for clean water. The jury sided with Waterkeeper on all claims against Corona Clay Company for its discharge of pollutants into Temescal Creek (also known as Temescal Wash), which flows into the Santa Ana River. This is the first jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff in a Clean Water Act citizen suit since the United States Supreme Court’s April 2020 decision in County of Maui v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund.
Waterkeeper sued Corona Clay Company in 2018, alleging it illegally discharged pollutants into Temescal Creek and violated various pollution-prevention provisions of the permit it was operating under—all violations of the Clean Water Act. This federal legislation, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022, regulates the discharge of pollutants into the waters of the United States and allows affected citizens to sue violators.
In an earlier ruling from the federal Central District Court of California, the Honorable District Judge David O. Carter granted Waterkeeper partial summary judgment on several of its claims. However, the jury sided with Corona Clay Company on the remaining claims. Both parties appealed the decision, resulting in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacating the district court’s judgment and the jury verdict.
The case then returned to the Central District Court, where Judge Carter declined to rule on any claims on summary judgment, nullifying his previous ruling and placing the entire case back in front of a jury. Since Clean Water Act suits are rarely seen by a jury, Waterkeeper contacted Morrison Foerster’s trial experts, who admirably accepted the case pro bono.
The trial was scheduled for November 15; however, Waterkeeper received notice on the morning of November 8 that jury selection would start that afternoon. Despite the early start, Waterkeeper was ready and won on all claims in a massive Clean Water Act victory. The jury found Corona Clay Company liable for thousands of days of violations. It is expected that Judge Carter will order Corona Clay Company to fix its facility’s pollutant discharges and pay civil penalties for its years of non-compliance.
“Our team is ready to pursue any case as long as required to protect clean water and uphold the law,” said Sarah Spinuzzi, Senior Staff Attorney at Inland Empire Waterkeeper. “We wish the defendant would have spent their resources improving their site to benefit water quality instead of dragging out this lengthy legal battle, which is ultimately a waste of everyone’s resources. We are glad the jury held Corona Clay accountable for their actions and look forward to a final resolution on this matter.”
“The trial’s strong verdict sends a message to industrial facilities to clean up their operations and prioritize environmental health,” said Garry Brown, Founder and President of Inland Empire Waterkeeper. “2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than holding polluters responsible.”
“I’m proud to have supported Inland Empire Waterkeeper in its fight to eliminate polluted waterways,” said Wil Frentzen, partner of Morrison Foerster and lead of the pro bono team. “MoFo is dedicated to providing pro bono services to groups like Waterkeeper to help protect our valuable land and water resources.”
ORANGE COUNTY COASTKEEPER: Orange County Coastkeeper is a member of the International Waterkeeper Alliance, which has 241 different independent programs across 40 countries. Founded in 1999, the mission of Coastkeeper is to protect and promote sustainable water resources that are swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. Coastkeeper is a nonprofit clean water organization that serves as a proactive steward of our fresh- and saltwater ecosystems. We work collaboratively with diverse groups in the public and private sectors to achieve healthy, accessible, and sustainable water resources for the region. We implement innovative, effective programs in education, advocacy, restoration, research, enforcement, and conservation. For more information, visit www.coastkeeper.org or call 714-850-1965.
INLAND EMPIRE WATERKEEPER, a chapter organization of Orange County Coastkeeper, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing water quality in the Upper Santa Ana River Watershed and other waterways of the Inland Empire through advocacy, education, research, restoration, and enforcement. For more information, visit www.iewaterkeeper.org.
MORRISON FOERSTER: Morrison Foerster is a leading global law firm that transforms complexity into advantage for its clients. Our clients include some of the largest financial institutions, banks, consulting and accounting firms, and Fortune 100, technology, and life sciences companies. Highlighting the firm’s commitment to client service, leadership in market-changing deals and impact litigation, and values-based culture, Morrison Foerster was recognized as one of the top 10 firms on The American Lawyer’s 2021 and 2022 A-List. Year after year, the firm receives significant recognition from Chambers and The Legal 500 across their various guides, including Global, USA, Asia‑Pacific, Europe, UK, Latin America, and FinTech Legal. Our lawyers passionately care about delivering legal excellence while living our values. Morrison Foerster has a long-standing commitment to creating a culture that respects and celebrates differences, while providing an inclusive environment. The firm has achieved Mansfield Certification Plus since 2018 as a result of successfully reaching at least 30 percent women, communities of color, and LGBTQ+ lawyer representation in a notable number of current leadership roles and committees. The firm also has a long history of commitment to the community and society through providing pro bono legal services, including litigating for civil rights and civil liberties, improving public education and fostering the wellbeing of children, advocating for veterans, promoting international human rights, enforcing the right to asylum, and safeguarding the environment.