Stone et al v. High Mountain Mining Company, LLC et al
ORDER Denying Plaintiffs' 38 Early Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Liability for Culvert Discharges, by Judge William J. Martinez on 11/19/2020.(angar, )
Case 1:19-cv-01246-WJM-STV Document 60 Filed 11/19/20 USDC Colorado Page 1 of 9
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Judge William J. Martínez
Civil Action No. 19-cv-1246-WJM-STV
M. JAMIE MORROW, and
THE SOUTH PARK COALITION, INC.,
HIGH MOUNTAIN MINING COMPANY, LLC, and
JAMES R. MURRAY,
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS’ EARLY MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY
JUDGMENT ON LIABILITY FOR CULVERT DISCHARGES
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs Pamela Stone, Twyla Rusan, M.
Jamie Morrow, and the South Park Coalition, Inc.’s (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) Early
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Liability for Culvert Discharges (the “Motion”).
(ECF No. 38.) For the reasons that follow, the Motion is denied.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 “if the
movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248–50 (1986). A fact is “material” if, under the
relevant substantive law, it is essential to proper disposition of the claim. Wright v.
Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231–32 (10th Cir. 2001). An issue is “g enuine” if
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the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable trier of fact to return a verdict for
the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F.3d 837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997).
In analyzing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence
and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). In
addition, the Court must resolve factual ambiguities against the moving party, thus
favoring the right to a trial. See Houston v. Nat’l Gen. Ins. Co., 817 F.2d 83, 85 (10th
Defendant High Mountain Mining Company, LLC (“HMM”) owns and operates the
Alma Placer Mine (the “Mine”). (ECF No. 38 at 3 ¶ 4.) James R. Murray is one of the
managing members of HMM. (ECF No. 48-1 ¶ 6.)
In their reply, Plaintiffs cite Adler for the proposition that on a motion for summary
judgment, “the burden shifts to the nonmovant to go beyond the pleadings and ‘set forth
specific facts’ that would be admissible in evidence in the event of a trial from which a rational
trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.” (ECF No. 59 at 10–11.) In these circumstances
Plaintiffs are mistaken. This burden-shifting applies only when: (1) the movant carries its initial
burden; and (2) the nonmovant bears the burden of persuasion at trial. Adler, 144 F.3d at 671.
As the movant who also bears the burden of persuasion at trial, it is Plaintiffs’ burden—not
Defendants’—to establish in its Motion that there are no genuine disputes as to any material
The following factual summary is based on the parties’ briefs on the Motion and
documents submitted in support thereof. These facts are undisputed unless attributed to a
party or source. All citations to docketed materials are to the page number in the CM/ECF
header, which sometimes differs from a document’s internal pagination.
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Overview of the Mine’s Operations
The Mine is a sand and gravel operation and placer gold mine located east of
Alma in Park County, Colorado. (ECF No. 38 at 4 ¶ 6; ECF No. 48 at 5 ¶ 6.) T he Mine
is adjacent to the Middle Fork of the South Platte River (“Middle Fork”). (ECF No. 38 at
4 ¶ 8; ECF No. 17-1 at 21.)
HMM processes approximately 100,000 cubic yards of gravel each year. (ECF
No. 48 at 10 ¶ 6(d).) According to HMM’s General Mining Plan,
All gold process is accomplished various forms of density
separation and no chemical processing treatments are used
on-site. Two sets of gold processing equipment will operate
next to active pit areas and are composed of a trommel,
grizzly, and sluice system. The processing building, located
near the center of the permit area, houses a spiral and
hydrocyclone used to further process for gold. Water used
in on-site sluices and within the processing building is
discharged into settling ponds 1–4 in sequential order.
Only water is used in processing the gold and gravel. Most
gold-bearing gravel is expected to be located below the
water table; therefore, a pump will be located below the
working area in each mining area to dewater the pit prior to
mining. It is expected that inflows to the pump will be
approximately 50–100 gallons per minute. This amount will
be pumped from the pit to the sediment pond system.
(ECF No. 17-1 at 28–29.) The “system of 4 ponds is located in the lower southwest
corner of the permit area to provide for pit water seepage back into the ground as well
as capacity to withhold the 100 year runoff.” (ECF No. 38-1 at 66.)
Defendants contend that although the ponds do not have synthetic liners, the
ponds have a significant proportion of “clay fines” within them that serve as natural
liners and “prevent infiltration.” (ECF No. 48 at 10 ¶ 6(g).) According to Defendants,
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they “are not aware of any evidence that any water has ever seeped out of ponds 1, 2,
3, and 4” and state that “[w]ater leaves the ponds only by recycling to the sluice [and by]
evaporation.” (Id. at 11 ¶¶ 6(g)–(h); ECF No. 48-1 at 1 ¶ 12.)
By contrast, Plaintiffs contend that water from the ponds “seep[s] and spill[s]”
and “contribute[s] to a wetlands area located on the Mine property” that flows to two
culverts (the “North and South Culverts”) and into the Middle Fork. (ECF No. 38 at 4–5
¶¶ 12–13; ECF No. 59 at 5 ¶ 6(i).) In support of these assertions, Plaintiff Pamela
Stone and Doris Ledue, a member of Plaintiff The South Park Coalition, Inc., submitted
affidavits averring that they have seen that the culverts move water from the Mine
property into the Middle Fork. (ECF No. 20-3 at 2 ¶ 6; ECF No. 20-7 at 2 ¶ 6.)
Sampling of Water In or Around the Mine Site
In July 2016, HMM contracted Arrakis, Inc. (“Arrakis”) to perform water quality
testing at the Mine site. (ECF No. 38 at 5 ¶ 15; ECF No. 38-3 at 1.) Arrakis analy zed
ten water samples in “areas where running water was observed entering the mine site,
flowing across the mine site, and leaving the mine site.”3 (ECF No. 38-3 at 1.) Plaintiffs
contend that Arrakis’s sampling shows barium, cadmium, potassium, magnesium,
sodium, and silica located in the North and/or South Culverts. (ECF No. 38 at 5 ¶ 19.)
Thereafter, in November 2016, Alison Burchell, a geologist and geochemist, was
retained to conduct water sampling at four sites: “MF1 Culvert 1, MF2 West Alma
Upstream, MF3 1000 feet downstream of Culvert 1, and MF4 Culvert 2.” (ECF No. 20-4
Eric Fritz, Arrakis’s operations manager, submitted a declaration stating that he and
his co-worker did not sample any water that could have been “created or affected by operations
at the Mine, or that ran from the surface of the Mine to any area outside of the Mine.” (ECF No.
48-4 at 1 ¶ 12.)
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at 11.) Ms. Burchell concluded the following:
[I]nstream chemistry along the reach of the Middle Fork,
which is influenced by Culverts 1 and 2, varied from samples
analyzed upstream and downstream. Notably, magnesium,
potassium, and sodium concentrations were elevated, which
I now understand were detected in high concentration in the
Mine settling ponds. Sulfur, carbon and uranium
concentrations are also elevated along this reach of the
Middle Fork as compared to upstream samples.
It is my opinion that Ponds 3 and 4, located 23.4’ f rom the
Middle Fork, are a likely additional source of contamination
into the River. Ponds 3 and 4 are designed to settle out fine
sand from Mine operations while temporarily detaining Mine
operation waters and fugitive metals or other contaminants.
According to the [Mine], . . . processing at the site includes
the use of portable trommels and sluice boxes, with water
discharge allowed to settled in the first catchment, and then
directed to ponds, including Ponds 3 and 4, which are
designed to “allow for infiltration of water into the native
grounds.” That water, and associated contaminants, is
eventually conveyed into the groundwater system and,
thence, to the Middle Fork adjacent to these ponds.
(Id. at 11–12.)
On April 29, 2019, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against Defendants HMM and
Murray, seeking: (1) an order declaring Defendants to be in violation of the Clean Water
Act (“CWA”); (2) the imposition of civil penalties on Defendants; and (3) an injunction
ordering Defendants to seek a permit and to rehabilitate the Middle Fork. (ECF No. 1.)
On June 28, 2019, Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 17.) On February 12, 2020,
the Court: (1) dismissed Plaintiff Be The Change USA’s claim without prejudice; (2)
reserved ruling on whether Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that Defendants’ discharges
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flowing from the settling pounds into the groundwater, and from the groundwater into
the Middle Fork, constitute a violation of the CWA; and (3) denied the motion in all other
respects. (ECF No. 35 at 8–9, 18–19.)
On March 4, 2020, Plaintiffs filed the Motion. (ECF No. 38.) Defendants
responded on April 8, 2020 (ECF No. 48), and Plaintif fs replied on May 6, 2020 (ECF
The CWA prohibits the discharge of any pollutant from a point source unless
authorized by a permit issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination
System (“NPDES”). See 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1342. To establish a violation of these
sections, Plaintiffs must prove that Defendants: (1) discharged (2) a pollutant (3) into
navigable waters (4) from a point source (5) without a permit. Sierra Club v. El Paso
Gold Mines, Inc., 421 F.3d 1133, 1142 (10th Cir. 2005) (citing Nat’l Wildlife Fed’n v.
Gorsuch, 693 F.2d 156, 165 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). Under the CWA, a “discharge of a
pollutant” is defined as “any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point
source.” 33 U.S.C. § 1362(12).
Plaintiffs have moved for early summary judgment regarding their claim that
Defendants are charging pollutants into the Middle Fork through the North and South
Culverts without a NPDES permit.4 (ECF No. 38 at 7.) Plaintiffs argue that there is no
The Court notes that Plaintiffs appear to be misusing the procedural mechanism that
is an Early Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. The Early Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment is intended to reduce the claims or issues in the case. See WJM Revised Practice
Standard III.E.2. Here, even though Plaintiffs are only seeking summary judgment on one of
their theories of unpermitted discharge (see ECF No. 38 at 2 n.1), a ruling in Plaintiffs’ favor
would ultimately require the Court to grant summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs on their
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genuine dispute that the Defendants are discharging pollutants into the Middle Fork
through the North and South Culverts. (Id.) In response, Defendants argue that
Plaintiffs cannot meet their burden in establishing how waters from the Mine moved
“from a pond and to the culverts” into the Middle Fork. (ECF No. 48 at 13.) The Court
agrees with Defendants.
There are substantial genuine disputes of material fact about whether, and how,
water travels from the Mine and into the Middle Fork. For example, Plaintiffs argue that
the Mine’s unlined ponds allow water to “seep back into the ground” into wetlands on
the Mine’s property, flow through the North and South Culverts beneath Highway 9, and
then flow into the Middle Fork. (ECF No. 38 at 7–8.) In support of this theory, Stone
and Ledue provide declarations averring that they have personally seen the culverts
carry water from the Mine property into the Middle Fork. (ECF No. 20-7 at 2 ¶ 6; ECF
No. 20-3 at 2 ¶ 6.)
Plaintiffs may well have seen water in the North and South Culverts. However,
these affidavits do not demonstrate that this water emanated from the Mine itself.5
CWA claim—i.e., the only claim listed in the Complaint (ECF No. 1 at 11). Thus, through the
Motion, Plaintiffs are effectively seeking all of the relief they seek in this action, albeit indirectly.
As made clear in RPS III.E.2., even with the filing of this Motion, Plaintiffs retain the right to file
another motion for summary judgment on the full merits, after the conclusion of all discovery.
Plaintiffs are on notice that this is not the intended purpose for an Early Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment before this Court. The Court will not, however, take any further action on
this matter at this time.
In their reply, Plaintiffs provided a new affidavit from Pamela Stone stating that:
(1) she knows where HMM’s property boundaries are located; and (2) she “can state with
certitude” that the water flowing through the North and South Culverts comes from HMM’s
property. (ECF No. 59-1.) Because this evidence was introduced for the first time on reply, the
Court will not consider it. United States v. Harrell, 642 F.3d 907, 918 (10th Cir. 2011)
(“[A]rguments raised for the first time in a reply brief are generally deemed waived.”).
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Defendant Murray submitted an affidavit stating that HMM’s property contains natural
drainage from snowmelt and other natural water that “does not cross the Mine or any
area on the [p]roperty where mining occurs.” (ECF No. 48-1 at 2 ¶ 15.) He further
contends that the Mine’s ponds utilize a “silt/clay lining [that] prevent[s] infiltration” and
states that he is unaware “of any evidence that any water has ever seeped out of ponds
1, 2, 3, and 4 at the Mine.” (Id. at 1 ¶¶ 11–12.) Discovery is needed to determine:
(1) the source of the water in the North and South Culverts; and (2) whether it is
possible for water to seep or flow from Mine’s ponds to the North and South Culverts.
Even assuming that the water flowing through the North and South Culverts
emanates from the Mine, there are also substantial disputed material facts about
whether the pollutants identified in the Middle Fork can be traced to HMM’s property.
See Sierra Club, 421 F.3d at 1146 (recognizing that the “CWA requires a connection or
link between discharged pollutants and their addition to navigable waters”). Plaintiffs
contend that Arrakis’s 2016 sampling “demonstrates that relatively substantial levels of
pollutants are leaving the Mine.” (ECF No. 38 at 10–11.) Arrakis’s report states that it
had conducted sampling “in areas where running water was observed entering the mine
site, flowing across the mine site, and leaving the mine site.” (ECF No. 38-3 at 1.)
However, Eric Fritz, Arrakis’s operations manager who conducted the sampling, stated
the following in a declaration submitted to the Court:
12. Mr. Berkley and I sampled no water that could have
been created or affected by operations at the Mine, or that
ran from the surface of the Mine to any area outside of the
13. I understand that Plaintiffs have alleged that I sampled
water leaving the Mine and that this is stated in my report.
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This is not true.
14. I have never observed water leaving the Mine and have
never sampled water leaving the Mine.
(ECF No. 48-4 at 1 ¶¶ 12–14.) Further discovery is needed to resolve key factual
questions about which waters Arrakis sampled, and whether there is a link between
pollutants discharged on the Mine property and pollutants identified in the Middle Fork. 6
Thus, because there are substantial and genuine disputes of material fact
remaining, Plaintiffs are not entitled to summary judgment on their CWA claim at this
For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiffs’ Early Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment on Liability for Culvert Discharges (ECF No. 38) is DENIED.
Dated this 19th day of November, 2020.
BY THE COURT:
William J. Martínez
United States District Judge
For example, the parties similarly dispute the impact of Ms. Burchell’s water sampling.
She concluded that sections of the Middle Fork contained elevated levels of magnesium,
potassium, sodium, sulfur, carbon, and uranium. (ECF No. 20-4 at 11.) In response,
Defendants argue that the pollutants “found by Ms. Burchell are consistent with magnesium
chloride which [the Colorado Department of Transportation] uses on the adjacent Highway 9 to
control ice buildup.” (ECF No. 48 at 8 ¶ 20.)
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