California Environmental Litigation

Latham & Watkins helps clients resolve a full spectrum of environment-related litigation matters in California, whether brought in administrative forums, or state and federal courts.

Delivering World-Class Representation Across the State

Latham represents real estate developers, land owners, movie studios, manufacturers, commercial businesses, energy companies and industry coalitions, as well as cities and municipalities, either as defendants or plaintiffs in environmental matters. The California Environmental Litigation Practice has successfully litigated high-stakes and complex disputes related to project siting, alleged historical or current contamination — especially of air, water, or sediment — toxic torts, regulatory compliance, and insurance coverage.

As clients’ litigation matters often relate to transactions, projects or day-to-day business on which Latham advises, Latham litigators work closely with transactional and regulatory colleagues who have particular experience with and insight into specific environmental statutes or regulations. Latham has decades of experience advising on matters related to:

  • California Air Resources Board (CARB)
  • California Coastal Act
  • California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
  • California Greenhouse Gas Laws SB375 and AB32
  • Clean Air Act
  • Clean Water Act
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
  • Endangered Species Act
  • National Environmental Policy Act
  • Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act
  • Proposition 65
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

Given the firm’s long history with environmental law, the practice has successfully litigated numerous cases of first instance, setting precedent in state and federal courts and influencing rulemaking with local, regional, and federal agencies. As one of the largest environmental practices in California, the practice regularly handles matters that span the length and breadth of the state, extend through years of proceedings or involve hundreds of plaintiffs. As skilled negotiators, Latham litigators also resolve disputes through alternate dispute resolution, arbitration, and innovative settlements.

Even before disputes arise, Latham advises clients based on litigation experience to offer insights and perspective on strategic and preventative counseling.

Drawing on a Record of Success

Latham litigators excel at understanding the legal, regulatory, and political landscape to resolve clients’ matters. Representative examples of the firm’s work include:

  • Latham represented a publicly traded utility company and its parent, in a neighborhood lawsuit alleging harmful releases of asbestos fibers from a former natural gas storage facility. In a six-week criminal trial the firm defended the client against criminal Clean Air Act charges and constitutional issues of first impression. Latham successfully moved the trial court for a new trial in the criminal case on the grounds that the government had performed improper testing. The federal government dismissed all civil and criminal charges before a retrial on the grounds that the government could offer no admissible evidence.
  • Represented  an engineering, procurement, construction, and maintenance services organization, in a coverage action against its insurer. The client sought to defeat the insurer’s claim based on a statute that allows policyholders to freely assign their coverage rights following a loss. Both the California Superior Court and California Court of Appeal rejected the client’s arguments. Latham appealed to the California Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court unanimously overruled the decision in favor of the client.
  • Represented a water developer in all administrative appeals and litigation involving the permitting and approval of a major desalination facility. The work included successfully defending five separate lawsuits that were filed against permits issued for the project by the City of Carlsbad, California Coastal Commission, California State Lands Commission, and California Regional Water Quality Control Board, including appeals brought in the California Court of Appeal. Successful resolution of the lawsuits was required for financing and construction of the facility to be completed.
  • Represented a major public utility in a case regarding challenges to permits to extend its operating license for a 100 year-old hydroelectric dam. The case presented a complex set of facts as the utility sought and obtained approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). A group of environmental plaintiffs, challenged FERC’s administrative decision in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which unanimously upheld FERC’s decision on all issues.
  • Represented a global provider of agricultural products for farmers, in a lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California regarding California’s listing of glyphosate under Proposition 65 as a chemical “known to the state to cause cancer” and Proposition 65’s attendant requirement that products containing glyphosate be accompanied by a “clear and reasonable warning.” Latham secured an important victory on behalf of the client and a large coalition of agricultural farming interests, obtaining a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the warning requirement on First Amendment grounds. This case is the first time a federal court has enjoined a Proposition 65 warning requirement on First Amendment grounds.
  • Representing a public utility company operating in the US and Canada, on a major water supply infrastructure project in California. Successfully defended against a multitude of lawsuits seeking to halt the client’s progress in securing CEQA approvals. The CEQA litigation is part of Latham’s broader representation advising on the client’s Environmental Impact Report and as part of a multi-year effort to secure a series of state and federal agency regulatory approvals for the project, including for a test slant well to demonstrate the well design feasibility. Latham has successfully defeated four separate lawsuits challenging various approvals for the test slant well, including before the California Court of Appeal.


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