The Wasatch Front is a metropolitan region in Utah where 80 percent of the state’s population reside. It includes Salt Lake City, Provo, and four other major major cities. The natural bowl where the region is geographically located has a population of over 2.3 million people making air pollution a major health and environmental concern.
Clean Air is Important
Air pollution was ranked as Utah residents’ number one concern in 2015 leading to action by environmental advocate organizations and state legislature alike. An environmental advocacy group that has acted to improve air quality in Utah is the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE). The organization is made up of physicians and healthcare professionals that together promote “science-based education that result in progressive, measurable improvements to the environment.”
Court Upholds Clean Air Act Provisions
The U.S. District Court in Utah decided a case in March 12, 2019 where UPHE filed a lawsuit against B & W Auto, Diesel Power Gear LLC (DPG), 4X4 Anything LLC, Sparks Motors LLC, David Sparks (owner and CEO of DPG and B & W Auto, Joshua Stuart (CFO and COO of DPG), and Keaton Hoskins (Marketing executive for DieselSellerz.com) for violating the Clean Air Act (CAA) as well as the federally-enforceable Utah State Implementation Plan Regulations.
The Defendants were accused of violating emissions standards from their modifications of diesel trucks, selling parts designed to evade emissions standards, as well as selling illegally-modified trucks. The group of businesses UPHO filed a suit against are known as the “Diesel Brothers” on their own Discovery Channel television show. They are known to purchase, modify, and sell diesel trucks. Like most reality tv shows, the Diesel Brothers are known for their distinctive personalities, stunts they play, and vehicles they display spewing black smoke. B & W Auto admitted to violating the claims brought by UPHE, but argued it was still not iiable. It also argued UPHE did not have standing to bring the claims, did not show irreparable harm, and Sparks could not be held liable under the corporate officer doctrine.
Did They Have Standing?
When an association brings a claim in federal court on behalf of its members as UPHE did, it is required to demonstrate that its members would have standing to sue on their own as well. This is done by showing the members have an injury in fact, the injury is caused by the Defendants, and the injury would be remedied (redressed) by with a favorable court decision. UPHE met this burden by showing that four of its members suffered injuries related to air pollution with their adverse health effects and discouragement of enjoying outdoor recreational activities.
Did Defendants Cause The Damage?
Causation was a more difficult requirement to establish considering the members are exposed to air pollution from multiple sources. The Court stated the burden of causation was established by showing the Defendants contributed to nitrous oxides and particulate matter, the same types of pollution that caused harm to the members.
The Court's Decision
The Court held that the redressability requirement was satisfied and that UPHE had standing to bring its claims. The Court also held in favor the Plaintiffs in relation to its claims against the individual Defendants were not legally barred. Defendants argued the CAA does not authorize civil enforcement suits against “responsible corporate officers.” Although the Tenth Circuit has not opined in this issue, the Court held the corporate officer doctrine does apply in CAA citizen enforcement suits. It supported this argument by stating the Congressional intent of holding corporate agents liable in civil suits is indicated in the Act’s legislative history.
In determining whether Sparks was liable as a responsible corporate officer, it was necessary to determine whether he had sufficient knowledge of the facts that caused the violations. The Court held that not enough evidence was shown to prove that Sparks knew of the diesel modification work or vehicle sales, which led to the violations. It concluded that a reasonable jury could not find that Sparks had the required knowledge.
There was no dispute as to whether DPG, Sparks, and Suart violated the CAA by selling aftermarket emission control defeat parts. Defendants admitted to selling at least 88 kits to customers to render inoperative pollution control devices on federally-certified motor vehicles. UPHE also claimed DPG sold several other pipes and kits. It however was unable to provide the names or evidence of them. This led to the Court granting the motion only for the 88 kits Defendants admitted to and not the additional pipes and kits it provided no evidence of.
The Court also held in favor of UPHE, finding Keaton Hoskins liable for owning or operating vehicles registered in Utah without operable pollution control systems According to UPHE, the actions committed by B & W Auto are significant and contributed to air pollution that can have dangerous health consequences.
Dr. Moench of UPHE notes health consequences of air pollution include “heart attacks, strokes, lung disease, cancer, and birth defects.” Considering these facts and the continued threat of climate change, it is not surprising UPHE took action. The Court held B & W Auto, Sparks, and Hoskins liable, and DPG, Sparks and Stuart liable for selling Defeat Parts.
For more information on how this organization helped its members take legal action against a contributor of air pollution or how you can take similar action, contact Whitcomb Selinsky Law PC. Please call (303) 534-1958 or complete an online contact form.