United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. GOODWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the court is Plaintiffs' Unopposed Motion to Enter
Consent Decree [ECF No. 4]. For the reasons that follow, the
Motion is GRANTED, and the parties'
proposed Consent Decree [ECF No. 3-1] is
February 16, 2015, the defendant's train carrying Bakken
crude oil derailed near Mount Carbon, West Virginia, causing
twenty-seven railcars to leave the tracks. Many of the
railcars erupted in explosions and fires while damage to the
remaining railcars caused oil to spill into the Kanawha River
and Armstrong Creek. The derailment caused a widespread power
outage, shut down a water intake system serving 2, 000
people, forced a four-day evacuation of nearby communities,
and destroyed a neighboring house. Further, an oily sheen
appeared in the Kanawha River near its confluence with
Armstrong Creek for at least two months after the derailment.
the United States of America, on behalf of the United States
Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), and the
State of West Virginia (“the State”), on behalf
of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection
(“WVDEP”), filed their Complaint [ECF No. 1]
against Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc.
(“CSXT”) on July 23, 2018. The Complaint alleges
that CSXT violated Section 311 of the Clean Water Act
(“CWA”), 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b)(3); Sections 6
and 8 of the West Virginia Water Pollution Control Act
(“WPCA”), W.Va. Code §§ 22-11-6 and 8;
and Section 4 of the West Virginia Groundwater Protection Act
(“WGPA”), W.Va. Code § 22-12-4. Plaintiffs
filed the proposed Consent Decree [ECF No. 3-1] on July 24,
2018. The United States subsequently published a notice of
the filing of the Consent Decree in the Federal
Register, informing the public that the Department of
Justice would accept comments relating to the proposed
Consent Decree for a period of thirty days. On November 19,
2018, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion, requesting the
court enter the proposed Consent Decree as a final order in
consent decree is a negotiated agreement that
“‘has elements of both judgment and
contract,' and is subject to ‘judicial approval and
oversight' generally not present in other private
settlements.” Szaller v. Am. Nat. Red Cross,
293 F.3d 148, 152 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Smyth v.
Rivero, 282 F.3d 268, 279-80 (4th Cir. 2002)).
“Because it is entered as an order of the court, the
terms of a consent decree must also be examined by the
court.” W.Va. Rivers Coal. v. Appalachian Power
Co., No. 3:14-24237, 2014 WL 5450239, at *1 (S.D. W.Va.
Oct. 23, 2014).
Fourth Circuit has explained that when considering whether to
enter a proposed consent decree, the general principle to be
followed is that settlements are encouraged. United
States v. North Carolina, 180 F.3d 574, 581 (4th Cir.
1999). “The presumption in favor of settlement is
particularly strong where a consent decree has been
negotiated by the Department of Justice on behalf of a
federal administrative agency specially equipped, trained, or
oriented in the field . . . EPA is such an agency.”
United States v. Cannons Eng'g Corp., 720
F.Supp. 1027, 1035 (D. Mass. 1989), aff'd, 899
F.2d 79 (1st Cir. 1990) (internal citation omitted).
district courts should not blindly accept the terms of a
proposed settlement. See Flinn v. FMC Corp., 528
F.2d 1169, 1173 (4th Cir. 1975). Instead, “before
entering a consent decree the court must satisfy itself that
the agreement is ‘fair, adequate, and reasonable'
and ‘is not illegal, a product of collusion, or against
the public interest.'” North Carolina, 180
F.3d at 581 (quoting United States v. Colorado, 937
F.2d 505, 509 (10th Cir. 1991)). The court must assess the
strength of the plaintiffs' case in considering the
fairness and adequacy of a proposed settlement. Id.
Specifically, the court should consider the stage of the
proceedings, the extent of discovery that has taken place,
the experience of the plaintiffs' counsel who negotiated
the settlement, and the want of collusion in the settlement.
submit that the parties negotiated the proposed Consent
Decree at arm's length. Plaintiffs also state that the
proposed Consent Decree addresses the allegations in the
Complaint and advances the purposes of the CWA. Accordingly,
Plaintiffs contend that the proposed Consent Decree is fair,
adequate, reasonable, and not contrary to the public
proposed Consent Decree, which resolves only the claims
alleged in the Complaint, requires CSXT to: (1) pay a federal
civil penalty of $1, 200, 000; (2) pay a $1, 000, 000 civil
penalty to the State; and (3) perform a State Supplemental
Environmental Project (“SEP”) worth $500, 000.
Proposed Consent Decree [ECF No. 3-1] 3-4. The SEP will allow
the State to assist the Kanawha Falls Public Service District
in carrying out necessary upgrades to its water treatment
facilities. Id. at 4. The proposed Consent Decree
explicitly reserves the resolution of any outstanding claims
by the United States or the State for response costs, natural
resource damages, and injunctive relief. Id. at 11.