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Davis v. Tennessee Board of Water Quality, Oil, & Gas

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

October 16, 2017

JAMES DAVIS D/B/A DAVIS AUTO REPAIR
v.
TENNESSEE BOARD OF WATER QUALITY, OIL, & GAS

          September 19, 2017 Session

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Shelby County No. CH-15-0046-1 Walter L. Evans, Chancellor

         After Appellant failed to comply with the terms of a storm water permit issued to him, he was fined $5, 000.00 by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The fine was upheld by an administrative law judge and, upon judicial review, by the Shelby County Chancery Court. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed and Remanded

          Jimmie D. Drewry, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, James Davis.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, Andrée Sophia Blumstein, Solicitor General, and Wilson S. Buntin, Senior Counsel, for the appellee, Tennessee Board of Water Quality, Oil, and Gas.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

         Background and Procedural History

         In March 2010, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation ("TDEC") conducted an inspection at James Davis's business, Davis Auto Repair, [1] in response to a complaint that personnel at the facility were dumping oil onto the ground and into an onsite storm drain. Although this particular complaint apparently proved to be unfounded, TDEC determined that Mr. Davis needed coverage under the Tennessee Multi-Sector Storm Water Permit. As detailed in a notice sent by TDEC to Mr. Davis, the March 2010 inspection revealed, among other things, the following: (1) "[v]ehicles on the property were leaking oil, and the oil was not being contained, " (2) "[c]ar batteries were observed outside and exposed to storm water, " (3) "[o]il-stained soil was . . . observed in several areas of the property, " and (4) "[o]il residue was observed in several areas of the property exposed to storm water." Mr. Davis thereafter completed a notice of intent form to apply for a storm water permit. There is no dispute that he was granted permit coverage following his application.

         In August 2012, TDEC conducted a compliance inspection. As is relevant here, the inspection revealed multiple violations with respect to the acquired Tennessee Multi-Sector Storm Water Permit. In a letter sent to Mr. Davis dated August 14, 2012, TDEC outlined these violations, which included the following: (1) unavailability of quarterly inspection reports, (2) failure to conduct sample collection, (3) unavailability of compliance inspection evaluation reports, (4) failure to implement appropriate best management practices to contain oil spills, and (5) unavailability of a storm water pollution prevention plan. In addition to directing Mr. Davis to submit a response detailing the steps he would take to address his noncompliance with the permit, TDEC's letter requested that he submit a copy of the facility's storm water pollution prevention plan by September 10, 2012. Although this September 10 deadline was later extended, Mr. Davis failed to comply with the extended deadline.

         In a letter dated October 29, 2012, TDEC requested a meeting with Mr. Davis at the Memphis environmental field office. On the date of his meeting with TDEC, Mr. Davis submitted a written response in which he acknowledged that compliance with the permit was still outstanding. In a subsequent letter dated November 13, 2012, TDEC noted that outstanding documents, such as the storm water pollution prevention plan, should be submitted by December 31, 2012.

         On February 15, 2013, following continued noncompliance on the part of Mr. Davis, the TDEC Commissioner issued a "Director's Order" in which Mr. Davis was assessed a $5, 000.00 civil penalty for various violations of his permit. Following an appeal of this order, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on September 19, 2013. As part of Mr. Davis's defense at the administrative hearing, his counsel argued that the underlying permit should never have been issued. Ultimately, however, the ALJ affirmed the Commissioner's assessment, and Mr. Davis thereafter sought judicial review in the Shelby County Chancery Court. In connection with his filing in Chancery Court, Mr. Davis also asserted a claim for declaratory judgment.

         On March 9, 2016, the Chancery Court entered an order disposing of Mr. Davis's requests for relief. In addition to upholding the ruling of the ALJ and the $5, 000.00 civil penalty assessed against Mr. Davis, the Chancery Court concluded that the asserted declaratory judgment claim should be dismissed. The present appeal followed.

         Issues ...


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