Robert Thornton specializes in advising state and regional infrastructure authorities on environmental issues regarding large infrastructure projects.  He has successfully defended more than $12 billion in regional infrastructure improvements against federal and state environmental challenges.

His work is well respected by his colleagues and clients who have ranked him among the nation's top environmental lawyers.



Los Angeles Light Rail Transit Project.  Lead counsel in successful defense of $1.5 billion rail transit project in west Los Angeles in litigation through the California Supreme Court.  Neighbors for Smart Rail v. Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority, 57 Cal. 4th 439 (2013).

Honolulu Rail Transit Project.  Successful defense of 20 miles, $5 billion Rail Transit Project in NEPA, Section 4(f) and National Historic Preservation Act litigation.  Honolulutraffic.com v. Federal Transit Administration, 742 F.3d 1222 (9th Cir. 2014).

Arizona Dep't of Transportation - South Mountain Freeway Project.  Lead counsel to ADOT in successful defense of 20-mile South Mountain Freeway Project in Phoenix against NEPA, and Section 4(f) challenges.  Protecting Arizona’s Resources & Children v. FHWA, U.S. Dist. Ariz Case Nos. CV-15-00893; 012121 (D. Ariz. Aug. 19, 2016, Granting ADOT’s Motion for Summary Judgment).  The project is currently under construction, and on December 8, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected two challenges to the 2016 decision, No.16-16586, No. 16-16605, --- Fed. Appx. ----, 2017 WL 6146939 (9th Cir. Dec. 8, 2017) (memorandum op’n).

Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies. Devised and implemented a successful environmental compliance strategy to defend against twenty lawsuits challenging $3 billion in regional transportation improvements in Southern California. Laguna Greenbelt Inc. v. United States Department of Transportation, 42 F.3d 517 (9th Cir. 1994).

San Diego Expressway (SR 125). Successfully obtained state and federal environmental clearances and permits for development of a 10-mile toll highway in San Diego. Subsequently successfully defended against complex state and federal litigation brought by several environmental groups on CEQA, NEPA, ESA, and Clean Water Act. Center For Biological Diversity et al. v. Federal Highway Administration, 290 F.Supp.2d 1175 (S.D.Cal. 2003).

Pacific Lumber Company – Headwaters Forest Transaction. Served as special endangered species and real estate counsel to Pacific Lumber Company on its sale of the Headwaters Forest to the California and U.S. governments. Concurrently developed a 211,000-acre HCP - the largest private timber HCP to date and the first timber HCP to address endangered and threatened salmon.

Imperial Irrigation District Water Transfer Project. Served as environmental counsel for the IID/San Diego County Water Authority Water Conservation and Transfer Project. Work involved negotiating and obtaining federal and state environmental approvals for the nation's largest agriculture to urban water transfer project.

Justin Vineyards and Winery, LLC.  In the matter of California Water Impact Network v. County of San Luis Obispo, et al., Rob represented Justin Vineyards and Winery, LLC.  The California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment dismissing a lawsuit that alleged that the issuance of well drilling permits for vineyards required compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The Court held that the county well drilling ordinance established a ministerial scheme for issuance of well permits, and did not confer discretion to shape a well permit to mitigate environmental damage arising from groundwater overuse.  The Court concluded that even though the issuance of ministerial permits may have adverse environmental effects, CEQA does not apply to or require environmental analysis of such approvals.  (California Water Impact Network v. County of San Luis Obispo (Justin Vineyards and Winery, LLC et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2018) ____ Cal.App.5th ___.) 



Blog Posts

Speaking Engagements



Community & Professional

California Building Industry Association

Orange County Building Industry Association

Urban Land Institute


Honors & Recognitions

Chosen for individual recognition for Environment in California by Chambers USA, 2013-2019

Chosen as one of Law360's 2016 Environmental MVPs

Ranked as one of the nation's top 10 environmental lawyers by United States Lawyer Rankings 2006-2018

Selected to the Southern California Super Lawyers list, 2004-2019

Chosen by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the fields of Environmental Law, Land Use and Zoning Law, and Litigation - Environmental, 2003-2020

Named a 2013 Top Rated Lawyer in Land Use And Zoning by Martindale-Hubbell and American Lawyer Media

AV Preeminent® Peer Review Rated by Martindale-Hubbell

Named to The National Law Journal's list of "Top 50 Litigation Trailblazers & Pioneers," 2014



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