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GASP and Clean Air Council: County Has No Grounds for Damages for Litigation-Based Construction Delays in Clean Air Fund Battle

The Group Against Smog and Pollution and Clean Air Council asked a Court of Common Pleas judge this week to dismiss a bid by Allegheny County that would put the two environmental groups on the hook for increased construction costs associated with delays the government agency said are due to a lawsuit the nonprofits filed seeking to stop it from using Clean Air Funds to pay for new digs for its Air Quality Program.

In court paperwork filed Monday, GASP and Clean Air Council responded to a May 13 Allegheny County filing and asked that one provision be dismissed with prejudice:

“Defendant is entitled to recover against plaintiffs any damages that it has suffered from the filing…which includes, but not limited to, the increased construction cost of renovation of building 1.”

These latest court filings stem from a lawsuit filed against Allegheny County by the two groups, which seek a declaratory judgment to stop the agency from using more than $9 million from the Clean Air Fund and Allegheny County Air Quality Fund for office renovations. They argue that money should be earmarked for air pollution regulation and air quality improvement projects only.

“The department does not allege any action by Council and GASP that would trigger a legal obligation by them to pay for any of those alleged costs. The department cannot sue for damages just because it has been sued,” the groups argued in their legal filing. “The only relevant facts that defendant has alleged are that the Council and GASP have commenced litigation against it and that there may be an increase in construction costs resulting from litigation-related damages.”

The groups said that Allegheny County failed to cite “legal authority in support of its claim that it is entitled to recover such costs.”

Attorneys for Clean Air Council and GASP argued that not only are the environmental groups immune from civil liability under both federal and state statute, but further protected under the First Amendment.

Common Pleas Judge Christine Ward on March 29 overruled preliminary objections filed by Allegheny County. More information on that court action can be found here.

For more information about the lawsuit, click here.

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