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Effective from September 1st! The Supreme Court of Justice has resolved these ecological and environmental infringement issues


Time:

2023-09-01

Effective from September 1st! The Supreme Court of Justice has resolved these ecological and environmental infringement issues

On August 15, 2023, the Supreme People's Court issued the "Interpretation of the Supreme People's Court on Several Issues Concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Cases of Ecological Environment Tort Liability Disputes" (hereinafter referred to as the "Interpretation") and the "Provisions of the Supreme People's Court on Evidence in Civil Litigation of Ecological Environment Tort" (hereinafter referred to as the "Provisions"), which will come into effect from September 1, 2023.

 

The main content of "Interpretation"

 

The Interpretation has a total of 29 articles, mainly stipulating the scope of ecological environment infringement cases, principles of liability attribution, multiple person infringement, responsible parties, responsibility bearing, and statute of limitations.

 

1、 The scope of cases related to ecological environment infringement

Article 1 of the Interpretation makes positive provisions, clarifying that environmental pollution includes substance based pollution such as wastewater and exhaust gas, as well as energy based pollution such as noise and vibration; Ecological damage includes ecological damage caused by unreasonable development and utilization of natural resources such as illegal mining and deforestation, as well as ecological damage caused by illegal introduction, release, and disposal of foreign species.

Article 2 of the Interpretation provides for reverse exclusion, clarifying that situations such as direct damage to personal and property, damage to enclosed spaces, damage to workers in professional activities, or damage to neighboring real estate rights holders in daily life without the use of ecological environmental media do not fall within the scope of ecological environment infringement cases, and relevant civil liability can be determined in accordance with other legal provisions.

 

2、 Regarding infringement by several individuals

According to the general provisions of the tort liability section of the Civil Code on the infringement of multiple persons, combined with the principles of liability attribution for ecological environment infringement and the characteristics of cases, the Interpretation makes clear provisions through Articles 5 to 9:

(1) According to Article 1171 of the Civil Code, if two or more infringers cause the same damage by polluting the environment or damaging the ecology, and each person's actions are sufficient to cause all the damage, the infringers shall bear joint and several liability;

(2) If two or more infringers discharge harmless substances and interact with each other to produce pollutants, or if two or more infringers discharge pollutants and interact with each other to produce secondary pollutants, as each infringer's behavior is the cause of the damage, the infringers shall bear joint and several liability;

(3) If the actions of each of the two or more infringers are not sufficient to cause total damage, the proportion and share of responsibility of each infringer shall be determined in accordance with Article 1172 of the Civil Code;

(4) The actions of some infringers are sufficient to cause total damage, while the actions of some infringers only cause partial damage. The infringers who are sufficient to cause total damage are responsible for the total damage, and they are jointly and severally liable with other infringers for the damage jointly caused. However, the compensation of the infringee shall be limited to the total damage caused by the infringing act.

 

3、 Compensation for damages in third-party governance

The third-party governance of environmental pollution is a market-oriented new model in which polluters pay fees as agreed and entrust environmental service companies to carry out pollution control. Its proportion in environmental pollution control methods is constantly increasing. Regarding the issue of tort liability in judicial practice, Articles 12 to 14 of the Interpretation distinguish three situations:

(1) If a pollution discharge unit entrusts its environmental protection facilities to a third-party governance institution for operation, and the third-party governance institution pollutes the environment and causes damage to others during the performance of the contract, the pollution control facilities shall be provided by the pollutant discharge unit, and the third-party governance institution operates the facilities under the management of the pollutant discharge unit, so the pollutant discharge unit shall bear the liability for infringement; After the pollutant discharge unit bears the liability for infringement, it may seek compensation from a third-party governance institution at fault.

(2) If the pollutant discharge unit entrusts the pollutant to a third-party governance institution for centralized disposal, and the third-party governance institution pollutes the environment and causes damage to others during the performance of the contract, the third-party governance institution shall bear the liability for infringement because the pollution control facilities are constructed and operated by the third-party governance institution and are actually controlled; If a pollutant discharge unit is at fault in selecting or instructing a third-party governance institution, it shall bear corresponding responsibilities.

(3) If a pollutant discharge unit and a third-party governance institution constitute joint infringement, they shall bear joint and several liability.

 

4、 Regarding third-party infringement

Articles 18 to 20 of the Interpretation provide for the following:

(1) Although a third party is at fault for the damage, the infringer shall bear full liability for the infringement; If the infringer claims to reduce or exempt liability based on the fault of a third party, it shall not be supported.

(2) If the infringer is at no fault, they may pursue compensation from a third party after assuming full responsibility; If the infringer is also at fault for the occurrence of the damage, after assuming full responsibility, they may recover the excess share of responsibility from a third party.

(3) When the infringee only sues a third party to bear responsibility, the people's court shall explain to them whether to sue the infringer at the same time; If the infringed party is explained not to sue the infringer, the people's court shall notify the infringer to participate in the litigation in accordance with Article 59 of the Civil Procedure Law.

 

5、 On the Application of the System of Denial of Corporate Personality

Article 15 of the Interpretation stipulates the specific application rules of the legal personality denial system in ecological environment infringement. According to Article 20 of the Company Law, the system of denial of legal personality applies to both contractual acts of voluntary transactions and infringement acts of involuntary transactions. Compared to whether the counterparty to the contract decides to engage in transactions with the company based on autonomy of will, the damage suffered by the infringee is completely passive. When determining the liability for ecological environment infringement, the application of the legal personality denial system is not only in line with Article 20 of the Company Law, but also conducive to the protection of the legitimate rights and interests of the infringee and the ecological environment.

 

6、 Protection of specific interests

Regarding the issue of relief for damage caused by environmental pollution and ecological destruction to the interests of natural resource utilization, Article 23 of the Interpretation stipulates that if the claimant claims that the actor bears responsibility when the following specific conditions are met, the people's court shall support it:

Firstly, the requester's activity is located in or near an ecological environment damaged area;

Secondly, the requester's activities rely on the damaged ecological environment;

Thirdly, the requester's activities are not fungible or the cost of substitution is too high;

Fourthly, the activities of the requester have stability and openness.

In addition, if the requester's activities require permission from relevant administrative authorities in accordance with national regulations, they should also obtain permission in accordance with the law. Under the aforementioned conditions, the claimant's interest in the use of natural resources falls within the scope of legal interests protected by the tort liability system and should be appropriately protected in accordance with the law.

 

7、 On the Application of the Rule of Negligence Offset

Article 1173 of the Civil Code stipulates the general rule of fault offset. Article 26 of the Interpretation combines the characteristics of ecological environment infringement and follows the basic theory of tort liability law. It stipulates that if the infringee has gross negligence in causing or expanding damage to the same polluting environment or ecological destruction behavior, and the infringer requests to reduce liability, the people's court may support it to better balance the responsibilities of both parties on the basis of protecting the legitimate rights and interests of the infringee.

 

The main content of the Regulations

The "Regulations" have a total of 34 articles, mainly including the scope of application, burden of proof, investigation, collection and preservation of evidence, principle of common evidence, expert evidence, order for documentary evidence, and determination of losses and expenses.

 

 

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Full text of "Interpretation" and "Regulations"

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Interpretation

 

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