SPC Opinion on Environmental Public Interest Civil Litigation

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Title: The Supreme People's Court Interpretation on Several Issues Regarding the Application of Law in Public Interest Environmental Civil Litigation

Promulgating Entities:Supreme People's Court

Reference number: Legal Interpretation (2015) No. 1

Promulgation Date: 1/6/2015

Expiration date:

Source of text: http://www.chinacourt.org/law/detail/2015/01/id/148058.shtml

The Supreme People's Court Interpretation on Several Issues Regarding the Application of Law in Public Interest Environmental Civil Litigation

Legal Interpretation (2015) No. 1

The Supreme People's Court's "Interpretation on Several Issues Regarding the Application of Law in Environmental Public Interest Environmental Civil Litigation" was passed by the 1631st meeting of the Adjudication Committee of the Supreme People's Court on December 8, 2014, and is hereby promulgated to take effect on January 7, 2015.

Supreme People's Court

January 6, 2015

The Supreme People's Court Interpretation on Several Issues Regarding the Application of Law in Public Interest Environmental Civil Litigation

Passed by the 1631st meeting of the Adjudication Committee of the Supreme People's Court on December 8, 2014, to take effect on January 7, 2015.

The following Interpretation is drafted for the correct hearing of public interest environmental civil litigation cases, on the basis of the "P.R.C. Civil Procedure Law ", the "The P.R.C. Tort Liability Law" , the "P.R.C. Environmental Protection Law" and other relevant laws and regulations combined with trial experience.

Article 1: Where institutions and related organizations provided for by law file suit in accordance with the provisions of Article 55 of the Civil Procedure Law, Article 58 of the Environmental Protection Law or other laws, against actions polluting the environment or disrupting the ecology that have already harmed the public interest or have a significant risk of harming the public interest; and where the case meets provisions of article 119(2) and 119(3) of the Civil Procedure Law; the people's courts should accept it.

Article 2: Social groups, private non-enterprise units, foundations and so forth that are registered with the civil affairs departments of people's governments at the sub-districted municipality level or above in accordance with the provisions of laws and regulations; may be considered "social organizations" as provided for by Article 58 of the Environmental Protection Law.

Article 3: People's government civil affairs departments of sub-districted municipalities, autonomous prefectures, leagues', regions or prefecture-level cities without sub-districts, of direct-controlled municipalities districts or highter, may be considered "people's government's civil affairs departments at or above the sub-districted municipality level" as provided for in Article 58 of the Environmental Protection Law.

Article 4: Social organizations whose articles of incorporation identify the primary objective and scope of the organization’s work to be protection of the public interest and performance of environmental protection public interest activities, they may be considered “specially engaging in the performance of public interest environmental activities” as provided for in Article 58 of the Environmental Protection Law .

The social public interest involved in litigation initiated by social organizations should have a link to its objectives and operational scope.

Article 5: Where social organizations have not, within five years, been subject to administrative or criminal penalties as a result of violating laws or administrative regulations in their business operations, they may be considered as “having no record of legal violations” as provided for in Article 58 of the Environmental Protection Law.

Article 6: Civil environmental public interest cases of the first instance fall under the jurisdiction of the Intermediate People’s Court for the area where the polluting conduct or destruction of the ecology occurred, where its harmful consequences occurred, or where the defendant is located.

Where an Intermediate People’s Court determines there is a real need, after applying for approval to the High People’s Court, it may rule to transfer trial of a first instance civil environmental public interest case over which it has jurisdiction, to a basic level people's court.

Where either a single plaintiff or different plaintiffs separately raise an environmental public interest civil lawsuit arising from the same acts of pollution or harm to the ecology, in 2 or more people's courts that have jurisdiction, the first people's court to file the case has jurisdiction, and when necessary, a higher court above both courts may assign jurisdiction.

Article 7: Upon approval from the Supreme People’s Court, High People’s Courts may, on the basis of the actual situation of environmental and natural ecosystem protection in their jurisdictions, determine some of the Intermediate People’s Courts in their jurisdiction to accept civil environmental public interest cases.

The regions over which the Intermediate People’s Courts have jurisdiction to handle civil environmental public interest cases is determined by the High People’s Court.

Article 8: The following documents shall be submitted in initiating environmental civil litigation:

(1) A Complaint meeting the requirements of Civil Procedure Law article 121, and copies corresponding to the number of defendants.

(2) Evidence attesting that the defendants' behavior has already violated the public interest, or presents a great risk of violating the public interest.

(3) Where social organizations initiate the suit, they shall provide their social organization registration, bylines, work reports or annual inspection reports for the five preceding the suit, as well as an attestation of having no record of legal violations signed by the legally-designated representative or other responsible party and with a seal attached.

Article 9: Where a people's courts find that the demands a plaintiff has submitted are insufficient to protect the public interest, it may make interpretative changes or add demands such as for stopping the infringing behavior and restoring the environment to its original state.

Article 10: After accepting a civil environmental public interest case, the People’s Court should send a copy of the complaint to the defendant within five days of filing the case, and publicly announce the acceptance of the case.

Where other organs and social organizations with the right to raise suit apply within 30 days of the date of the public announcement to participate in the proceedings, and upon review meet the statutory requirements, the people's court shall list them as a co-plaintiff; where applications are later than this period, they will not be approved..

Where citizens, legal persons, or other organizations apply to join the litigation on the grounds of harm to their person or property, inform them to file a separate action.

Article 11: Procuratorates and departments with responsibility for environmental protection oversight and management, as well as other government organs, social organizations, enterprises or public institutions may support social organizations lawfully initiating civil environmental public interest litigation by providing legal consultation, written opinions, assistance in the examination and collection of evidence or other means, in accordance witharticle 15 of the Civil Procedure Law.

Article 12: After accepting a civil environmental public interest lawsuit, the People's Court shall, within ten days, notify the governmental department responsible for environmental protection oversight and management of the defendant.

Article 13: Where the plaintiff requests that the defendant provide environmental information such as the names of the primary pollutants discharged, the means of discharge, the concentration and quantity discharged, circumstances of excess discharge, equipment for preventing pollution and pollution transport, which laws, regulations or rules require the defendant to retain or for which there is evidence showing that the defendant has it but refuses to provided it; then if the plaintiff makes assertions about these matters adverse to the defendant, the people's court may make a presumption that the assertions have been established.

Article 14: Where people's courts that find it is necessary, they shall investigate and gather evidence needed for trial of civil public interest environmental lawsuits.

For issues on which the plaintiff should bear the burden of presentating evidence, and specialized issues necessary for the protection of the public interest, people's courts may retain a qualified appraiser to conduct the appraisal.

Article 15: Where parties apply to notify persons with expert knowledge to appear in court to submit comments on an evaluator's appraisal opinion or on specialized issues such a causation, the method of resotring ecological damage, the cost of restoring ecological damage and the loss of services or function during the restoration of ecological damage the ecology, the people's courts shall allow it.

The expert opinions provided for in the preceding paragraph may serve as the basis for determining facts upon examination and debate.

Article 16: Where, during the course of legal proceedings, the plaintiff concedes adverse facts and accepts evidence, but the people's court finds it harmful to public interests, the court shall withhold confirmation of that evidence or facts.

Article 17: Where in the course of hearing environmental public interest civil trials, the defendant submits a a claim as a counterclaim, the people's courts will not accept it.

Article 18: For acts of environmental pollution and ecological harm that have already harmed the public interest or have a great risk of harming the public interest, the plaintiff may demand that defendant have civil responsilities such as stopping the infringement, eliminating obstructions, removing dangers, restoring original conditions, paying compensation and making formal apologies.

Article 19: Where plaintiffs request that defendants stop the violation, clearing of obstructions or elimination of risks, so as to prevent the occurrence or expansion of ecological of environmental harm; people's courts may support it in accordance with law.

Where the plaintiff incurred costs in employing reasonable prevention and handling measures to stop infringement, clear obstructions or eliminate risks, and makes a demand fo the defendant to bear these costs, the people's court may lawfully support it.

Article 20: Where the plaintiff requests a restoration to original states, the people's courts may make judgment in accordance with law that the defendant restore the environmental ecology to the state and function it was in before the harm occurred. Where full restoration is not possible, other substitute restorative means may be employed.

People's courts making a judgment to restore the original ecological state, may concurrently confirm the costs for ecological restoration, and those costs include fees for formulating and implementing a restoration plan, and management fees.

Costs of restoring the ecology include costs such as formulating and implementing a restoration plan and oversight and management costs.

Article 21: Where the plaintiff makes a demand that the defendant compensate for loss of service and function during the period of ecological harm and restoration, the people's courts may lawfully support it.

Article 22: Where a plaintiff makes a demand that the defendant bear reasonable costs incurred for litigation such as for inspections and appraisals and reasonable lawyers fees, the court may lawfully support it.

Article 23: Where ecological restoration costs are difficult to determine or where the amount of the requisite appraisal costs are clearly excessive, the people's court may combine factors such as the scope and extent of environmental harm and ecological damage, the ecological scarcity, the difficulty of ecological restoration, the costs of operating equipment to prevent pollution, the benefits gained by the defendant due to their harmful acts, and their degree of fault; and may also consult sources such as opinions from departments with responsibility for environmental protection oversight and management, experts opinions, to make a reasonable determination.

Article 24: The fund that is to be borne by the defendant as ruled by the people's court, such as ecological restoration costs or losses of services for the duration of restoration of a damaged environment, shall be used to restore the damaged environment.

Other necessary costs to be borne by losing plaintiffs in environmental public interest civil litigation, such as costs from collecting evidence, consulting experts, inspections, and appraisals, may be discretionarily defrayed from the fund described above.

Article 25: After parties to environmental public interest civil litigation reach a mediation agreement or reach a settlement agreement on their own, the people's court shall publicly announce the content of the agreement and the period for the announcement is at least 30 days.

Where after the public announcement period is completed, the people's court finds that the content of a mediation or settlement agreement does not harm the public interest, it shall issue a mediation document. Where parties request to withdraw the lawsuit for the reason of reaching a settlement agreement, it is not permitted.

The mediation document shall clearly write out the litigation demands, the basic facts of the case, and the content of the agreement, and shall be made public.

Article 26: Where departments responsible for environmental protection supervision and management lawfully fulfill their regulatory obligations in accordance with law, causing the demands of the plaintiff's suit to be fully realized, and the plaintiff requests to withdraw the lawsuit, the people's court should permit it.

Article 27: Where after the completion of courtroom debate the plaintiff applies to withdraw the lawsuit, the people's court will not allow it, except in the circumstances provided for in article 26 of this Interpretation.

Article 28: In any of the following circumstances, where after the judgment of a civil environmental public interest lawsuit has taken effect, other government organs or social organizations with the right to raise a suit, separately initiate an action about the same activities that pollute the environment or damage the ecology; the people's courts shall accept it:

(1) the lawsuit by the plaintiff in the proceeding case was rejected;
(2) A judgment was made to permit the original plaintiff's application to revoke the suit, except in the situation provided for in Article 26 of this Interpretation.

Where after a judgment in an environmental public interest civil lawsuit has taken effect, there is evidence showing harms that had not been discovered when the original case had was heard, and government organs or social organziations with the right to initiate litigation file a separate suit, the people's courts shall accept it.

Article 29: Where legally designated organs or social organizations raise environmental public interest litigation, it does not impact litigation raised by citizens, legal persons or other organizations under article 119 of the Civil Procedure Law over harms to person or property caused by the same conduct polluting the environment or damaging the ecology.

Article 30: Plaintiffs and defendants in civil litigation initiated under article 119 of the Civil Procedure Law do not need to raise evidence on facts that have already been ascertained in an effective judgment from an environmental public interest lawsuit arising from the conducts' environmental pollution or ecological harm; except where the plaintiff objects and has evidence sufficient to overturn it.

When the plaintiff in litigation initiated under Civil Procedure Law article 119 so advocates, people's courts should uphold all determinations by effective judgments from environmental public interest civil litigation arising from the same acts of environmental pollution or ecological damage on issues such as whether the defendant is legal not responsible or has circumstances lessening their liability, whether there is a causal connection between the conduct and the harms, and also the extent of the the defendants' liability; except where the defendant has contrary evidence sufficient to reverse this. Where defendants advocate applying a determination in their favor, the people's courts will not support it and the defendant should still present evidence.

Article 31: Where a defendant, because of environmental pollution or ecological damage, is judged to bear liability in both an environmental public interest civil lawsuit and another civil lawsuit, and their assets are not sufficient to fulfill all of their obligations, they shall first perform their obligations affirmed under effective decision from the other civil suits; except as provided elsewhere by law.

Article 32: Where an effective ruling in a public interest environmental civil lawsuit requires compulsory enforcement measures, it shall be transferred for enforcement.

Article 33: Where plaintiffs truly have difficulty in handing over litigation costs and lawfully apply to deferral, the people's courts should permit it.

Where plaintiffs who have lost a lawsuit in whole or in part apply to have litigation fees reduced or waived, the people's court shall decide wheter to allow it with reference to the provisions of the "Measures on Payment of litigation fees" , the plaintiff's economic situation and the circumstances of trial.

Article 34: Where social organizations unlawfully accept assets or otherwise act to acquire economic interests through litigation, people's courts may, based on the severity of the circumstances, confiscate their unlawful gains in accordance with law or give fines; and where a crime is constituted, transfer to the relevant authorities for disposition.

Where social organizations acquire economic interests through the litigation, people's courts shall deliver a judicial recommendation to the registration management organs or relevant organs, for disposition.

Article 35: Where judicial interpretations and normative documents released by the Supreme People's Court before this interpretation is implemented are inconsistent with this interpretation, this interpretation is controlling.

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