Robert E. McDonnell concentrates on environmental, land use, and real estate matters. He counsels clients on compliance and permitting, defends them in enforcement cases, and represents them in trials in the state and federal courts and in hearings before administrative agencies and boards. Bob has also represented fiduciaries in trust disputes and will contests, and has tried commercial and maritime cases involving breach of contract and tort claims.
Bob’s environmental compliance and permitting work has involved the full range of environmental media: clean water, wetlands, stormwater, clean air, noise, solid waste, oil pollution, hazardous waste, pharmaceutical waste, and radioactive materials. He regularly advises clients about compliance matters and helps them to develop efficient approaches to inspection, training, and reporting. He has also, over the years, represented ship owners and waterfront businesses in marine oil spills. This work included providing admiralty and maritime advice to the firm’s Deepwater Horizon team. He has a significant amount of experience involving the planning, permitting, construction and operation of marine terminals and other waterfront facilities. In addition to defending environmental enforcement matters or pursuing permits and appeals, Bob has worked with others in the firm to complete due diligence investigations for complex energy and commercial development projects.
Bob’s land use and real estate work includes the trial of zoning and real-estate development cases, and the litigation of permit disputes and appeals. On more than one occasion, he has obtained injunctive relief against municipal enforcement orders. His clients in the real estate field include commercial real estate developers, privately held companies, family-owned businesses, and fiduciaries with significant real estate holdings in their portfolios.
Bob has also defended trustees against breach of fiduciary duty claims, and against commercial claims alleged by third parties. He is sensitive to the dynamics of the trustee-beneficiary relationship and has successfully guided complex disputes to resolution through mediation and other means of private dispute resolution.
Before joining Morgan Lewis, Bob was a partner in the environmental, land use, and natural resources practice at another international law firm. He served as the co-chair of that firm’s national pro bono practice committee, and from 2006 to 2014 managed the pro bono practice in the Boston office. Bob was also a member of the Wetlands Protection Committee in the Town of Wellesley, Massachusetts from 1995 to 2007, and served two terms as chair of the committee.
In response to a lawsuit brought by a competing real estate developer, obtained the dismissal of a case challenging the adequacy of the client’s environmental impact reports under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act. Combined Properties v. Pritchard, 21 Mass.L.Rptr. 644 (2006). The court dismissed a similar challenge by another party in 2003.
Won a seven-figure judgment in arbitration for a solid waste management and recycling firm. The claims involved environmental and commercial issues and arose under the provisions of a long-term contract with a public entity.
Won dismissal of a penalty assessment against the operators of a marine terminal and road salt distribution company. In the Matter of Eastern Minerals, Inc., 13 DEP Rptr. 219 (Aug. 8, 2006). Bob has also negotiated state and federal consent orders for many clients involving alleged noise complaints, fugitive emission of VOCs, ozone layer emissions, pesticide labeling, hazardous waste recordkeeping and disposal, wetlands violations, and other alleged offenses.
In response to zoning board orders restricting the client’s ready-mix manufacturing operation, obtained a preliminary injunction from the Massachusetts Land Court restraining enforcement. After trial, the court ruled that the client’s hours of operation and volume of production were grandfathered. MS&G Lakeville Corp. v. Town of Lakeville, 15 LCR 259 (June 1, 2007).
Worked with local counsel to appeal successfully the denial of a special permit for the expansion of a family-owned beer distribution business. When the board imposed unreasonable traffic limitations on remand, a second appeal to the Superior Court resulted in a summary judgment striking the unreasonable restrictions.
Took over a zoning case on appeal and persuaded the court to reverse the bad faith ruling made at trial. Sheehan v. Zoning Board of Plymouth, 65 Mass.App.Ct. 52 (2005). When the opponent brought an action alleging abuse of process and other torts against the family-owned company and its principals, filed an anti-SLAPP motion resulting in dismissal of the second action and an award of attorneys’ fees.
Counseling and Permitting
In 2008, worked closely with a family-owned business and a team of experts to secure a special permit for a waterfront location in Boston Harbor combining marine industrial uses with innovative public access and recreational features. The permitting effort involved neighborhood meetings, negotiations with numerous stakeholders and regulators, and a series of public hearings before the permitting boards.
Assisted a New England textile manufacturer in demonstrating to one of its major retail customers that the client’s product consisted wholly of recycled materials that met the standards of both the customer and the Federal Trade Commission
Advised a developer about federal and state wetlands issues on its proposed site. He also advised an industrial client about requirements for a storm water pollution prevention plan under a general permit.
In 2008, performed the due diligence and crafted the environmental opinion in connection with a construction loan for an office park in the Boston suburbs
Stanford University, 1973, Bachelor of Arts
University of Virginia School of Law, 1981, Juris Doctor
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
US District Court for the Central District of California
US District Court for the District of Massachusetts
US District Court for the Southern District of California
Supreme Court of the United States
Awards and Affiliations
Member, Practice Group of the Year, Environmental, Law360 (2017, 2019)
American Bar Association
Massachusetts Bar Association
Boston Bar Association
Real Estate Bar Association
Maritime Law Association
Two-term chairman, Town of Wellesley Wetland Protection Committee (1995–2007).
Board of Trustees, The Boston Harbor Association (2006–2008). Currently provides pro bono legal counsel to this nonprofit NGO.