Phila. Gun Club and Delaware Riverkeeper Network reach settlement in federal case

By Jon Campisi | Sep 25, 2012

Federal litigation between a suburban Philadelphia sporting organization and an

environmental advocacy group appears to have come to a close.

The Philadelphia Gun Club late last week agreed to apply for an environmental permit and shuck out $15,000 in a case in which the club was being sued by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network over claims that the plaintiff has been polluting the Delaware River through its live pigeon shoots.

The money will be given to the river advocacy group to cover attorney’s fees and costs arising out of the litigation, which was first initiated by the plaintiff in late March.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network accused the defendant of putting the river in harms way due to the shotgun pellets that make their way into the body of water during the pigeon shoots, which are still legal in Pennsylvania.

The advocacy group also claimed the pigeon carcasses themselves were polluting the river, which separates Pennsylvania from New Jersey.

The club says it uses nontoxic shotgun pellets, which are legal for hunting waterfowl in Pennsylvania.

In a Sept. 17 filing at federal court in Philadelphia, which is where the lawsuit had been filed, attorneys for the gun club said the defendant would file an application for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on or before Dec. 31 of this year.

Furthermore, the club would pay the plaintiff the $15,000 within five days of the entry of judgment, with the offer of judgment settling all claims for relief as set forth in the amended complaint, which includes costs and attorney’s fees accrued to date.

The offer of judgment states that the club is making no admission that it is in violation of the federal Clean Water Act or is otherwise liable in this action.

The filing also states that the settlement is not to be construed as an admission that the gun club is required to obtain the NPDES permit as a matter of law or that the plaintiffs have standing in the matter.

“Said judgment is to have no effect whatsoever, except in settlement of the above-captioned matter,” states the offer of judgment, which was signed by attorneys with Land Air Water Legal Solutions and the Doylestown, Pa. firm of Eastburn & Gray.

In earlier filings, the gun club had argued that the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, while claiming their lawsuit was about pollution, really had an ulterior motive in launching the litigation.

The club asserted that the group was aligning with others, such as animal rights activists, who take issue with the live pigeon shoots from a moral perspective; Pennsylvania remains one of the last states that allows live pigeon shoots for sport by law.

Despite some opposition throughout the years, the General Assembly has never taken up any action to ban the practice, which some see as cruel.

In a Sept. 22 Philadelphia Inquirer article, Sean Corr, an attorney for the gun club, said the settlement does nothing to stop the organization from hosting its pigeon shoots.

“This was a nuisance settlement to eliminate attorney’s fees going forward,” Corr told the newspaper.

In that same story, Nicholas Patton, a lawyer working with the Riverkeeper Network, called the offering by the gun club to obtain the state environmental permit “a big change in their position.”

Patton noted that the settlement doesn’t require the gun club to obtain the NPDES permit, only apply for it by Dec. 31.

The state Department of Environmental Protection would be charged with evaluating the permit and applying Clean Water Act standards, Patton told the paper.

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