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YLS Clinic Students Contribute to Noted Gas Pipeline Lawsuit

Yale Law School students continue to make valuable contributions to high-profile, public interest cases being handled by the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. The work is part of the students’ participation in the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP), a partnership between the Law School and the City Attorney’s Office founded in 2006 by Yale law professor Heather Gerken and former visiting lecturer Kathleen Morris.

Morris, who works for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office, had high praise for Josh Bendor ’13 and Miles Farmer ’12, who were deeply involved in the preparation of a lawsuit Herrera filed Feb. 14 against the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

“I wanted to acknowledge and congratulate SFALP students Josh and Miles, who did excellent work to help us bring this case to fruition,” said Morris. “The legal work was extremely challenging and intricate, and they did an outstanding job.”

The lawsuit accuses PHMSA of having “abjectly failed” to enforce federal gas pipeline safety standards for more than a decade prior to the deadly explosion of a PG&E gas transmission line in San Bruno, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2010. The blast claimed eight lives, injured more than 50 others, and destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes.

“One of the most troubling findings to emerge in the 18 months since the San Bruno tragedy is that regulators were either asleep at the switch or far too cozy with the industry they’re supposed to regulate,” said Herrera. “And in the case of PHMSA, the agency is still asleep at the switch.”

Bendor and Farmer tackled a number of legal research projects in advance of the filing of the complaint. Bendor noted, “It’s been a real privilege to work on this case. The legal issues were fascinating and made all the more vivid by their connection with the life or death issue of pipeline safety.”

Echoing these sentiments, Farmer stressed the partnership between the City and the Law School.

“In working with the San Francisco City Attorneys to hold federal regulators accountable for their lack of meaningful oversight, we have been fortunate to get the opportunity to work with incredibly high quality attorneys on novel legal issues.”

“A victory in this case could have national implications,” said Morris. “Thanks, yet again, to Yale Law School for helping our office fulfill its mission as a champion of the public interest!”

Expressing her enthusiasm for the Project, Professor Gerken noted, “This partnership has been wonderful for Yale. The students get to do cutting-edge public interest work with some of the best lawyers in the country. What could be better?”

Read more about the lawsuit here.

The San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project is funded by The Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School.