Monday, March 26, 2012

SCOTUS Rules In Sackett v. U.S. EPA Wetlands Case

Mar 21: In the U.S. Supreme Court, Case No. 10-1062. Appealed from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit [See WIMS 9/21/10]. Oral arguments were held January 9, 2012 [See WIMS 1/10/12]. The opinion was unanimous with two separate concurring opinions.
    Chantell and Michael Sackett own a small lot in a built-out residential subdivision that they graded to build a home. Thereafter, the Sacketts received an Administrative Compliance Order from EPA claiming that they filled a jurisdictional wetland without a Federal permit in violation of the Clean Water Act. At great cost, and under threat of civil fines of tens of thousands of dollars per day, as well as possible criminal penalties, the Sacketts were ordered to remove all fill, replace any lost vegetation, and monitor the fenced-off site for three years. The Sacketts were provided no evidentiary hearing or opportunity to contest the order. And, the lower courts have refused to address the Sacketts' claim that the lot is not subject to Federal jurisdiction. The questions presented to the Supreme Court were: Do Petitioners have a right to judicial review of an Administrative Compliance Order issued without hearing or any proof of violation under Section 309(a) (3) of the Clean Water Act?
    The district court granted the EPA's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss the Sacketts' claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Appeals Court ruled, "In conclusion, we hold that it is 'fairly discernable' from the language and structure of the Clean Water Act that Congress intended to preclude pre-enforcement judicial review of administrative compliance orders issued by the EPA pursuant to 33 U.S.C. § 1319(a)(3). We further interpret the CWA to require that penalties for noncompliance with a compliance order be assessed only after the EPA proves, in district court, and according to traditional rules of evidence and burdens of proof, that the defendants violated the CWA in the manner alleged in the compliance order. Thus we do not see any sharp disconnect between the process given a citizen and the likely penalty that can be imposed under the CWA. Under these circumstances, preclusion of pre-enforcement judicial review does not violate the Sacketts' due process rights. The district court properly dismissed this case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction."
    The High Court said, "The particulars of this case flow from a dispute about the scope of 'the navigable waters' subject to this enforcement regime. Today we consider only whether the dispute may be brought to court by challenging the compliance order -- we do not resolve the dispute on the merits."
    Despite that fact the Supreme Court said, "The reader will be curious, however, to know what all the fuss is about" and cited its various cases regarding "navigable waters" including: United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc., 474 U. S. 121 (1985); Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook Cty. v. Army Corps of Engineers, 531 U. S. 159 (2001); and Rapanos v. United States, 547 U. S. 715 (2006).
    In the opinion, the Supreme Court indicates in part, ". . .the Government notes that Congress passed the Clean Water Act in large part to respond to the inefficiency of then-existing remedies for water pollution. Compliance orders, as noted above, can obtain quick remediation through voluntary compliance. The Government warns that the EPA is less likely to use the orders if they are subject to judicial review. That may be true -- but it will be true for all agency actions subjected to judicial review. The APA's presumption of judicial review is a repudiation of the principle that efficiency of regulation conquers all. And there is no reason to think that the Clean Water Act was uniquely designed to enable the strong-arming of regulated parties into 'voluntary compliance' without the opportunity for judicial review -- even judicial review of the question whether the regulated party is within the EPA's jurisdiction. Compliance orders will remain an effective means of securing prompt voluntary compliance in those many cases where there is no substantial basis to question their validity."

    The High Court ruled, "We conclude that the compliance order in this case is final agency action for which there is no adequate remedy other than APA review, and that the Clean Water Act does not preclude that review. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

    Justice Ginsburg in a concurring opinion said in part, "The Court holds that the Sacketts may immediately litigate their jurisdictional challenge in federal court. I agree, for the Agency has ruled definitively on that question. Whether the Sacketts could challenge not only the EPA's authority to regulate their land under the Clean Water Act, but also, at this pre-enforcement stage, the terms and conditions of the compliance order, is a question today's opinion does not reach out to resolve. Not raised by the Sacketts here, the question remains open for another day and case."
    In a lengthier concurring opinion, Justice Alito said, "The position taken in this case by the Federal Government -- a position that the Court now squarely rejects -- would have put the property rights of ordinary Americans entirely at the mercy of Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) employees. The reach of the Clean Water Act is notoriously unclear. Any piece of land that is wet at least part of the year is in danger of being classified by EPA employees as wetlands covered by the Act, and according to the Federal Government, if property owners begin to construct a home on a lot that the agency thinks possesses the requisite wetness, the property owners are at the agency's mercy. . . Allowing aggrieved property owners to sue under the Administrative Procedure Act is better than nothing, but only clarification of the reach of the Clean Water Act can rectify the underlying problem."
    Access the complete opinion and concurring opinions (click here). Access the transcript of the oral arguments (click here). Access the merit briefs and numerous amicus briefs filed in the case (click here). Access the SupCt docket in the case (click here). [#Water, #SCOTUS]

U.S. v. Oceanpro Industries, Ltd.

Mar 23: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, Case No. 10-5239, 10-5284 and 10-5285. Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt. Oceanpro Industries, Ltd., doing business as "Profish, Ltd." (Oceanpro), a seafood wholesaler in the District of Columbia, and two Oceanpro employees, Timothy Lydon (officer and fish buyer) and Benjamin Clough, III (fish buyer), were convicted for purchasing untagged and oversized striped bass, in violation of the Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. § 3372(a)(2)(A) (prohibiting the purchase in interstate commerce of fish or wildlife sold in violation of state law). Oceanpro and Clough were also convicted for giving a false statement to Federal law enforcement officers during the course of the investigation of the crimes, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. In addition to imposing fines and prison sentences, the district court ordered the three defendants, jointly and severally, to pay Maryland and Virginia $300,000 in restitution, to be divided equally between the States.
    On appeal, Oceanpro and Clough challenge the District of Maryland's venue for the false statement offense because the false statement was made at the offices of Oceanpro in the District of Columbia, not in Maryland. In addition, all of the defendants contend that the order of restitution to the States was improper because the States did not have a sufficient interest in the illegally caught fish so as to make them "victims," as is required for receiving the benefit of a restitution order.
    The Appeals Court ruled, "We reject both arguments, concluding that venue for the false statement charge was proper in the District of Maryland and that Maryland and Virginia's interest in striped bass was sufficient to make the States 'victims' and therefore to justify an award to them of restitution. Accordingly, we affirm." In its conclusion, the Appeals Court added, "To qualify as victims, Maryland and Virginia need not even have been 'owners' of the striped bass, although they were after the fish were illegally caught; they merely had to have interests that were 'harmed' as a result of the defendants' criminal conduct. Because we have concluded that their interests were indeed harmed, the States were victims and therefore properly awarded restitution."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Wildlife, #CA4]
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Scarborough Citizens v. US Fish and Wildlife Service

Mar 22: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Case No. 11-1597. Appealed from the District Court of Maine, Portland. The litigation concerns a segment of the Eastern Trail in Scarborough, Maine. The Eastern Trail is a public recreational trail which is part of a network of trails running along the Eastern Seaboard. The portion of the Trail at issue in this case is over three miles long, runs through a 32-acre tract of land owned by the state of Maine, and is used in part for recreation and to access the state-managed Scarborough Marsh Wildlife Management Area.
    An association and several individuals who regularly use the Trail for recreating and hunting, and who support wildlife conservation (Scarborough Citizens) brought suit against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and its Northeast
Regional Director, as well as the Governor of Maine and the Commissioners of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Scarborough Citizens alleged that easements conveyed by the State on the parcel of land violate the law.
    In its appeal, Scarborough Citizens argues that the State agency has repeatedly violated the Wildlife Restoration Act and federal regulations in varying respects by conveying nearly ten easements on various portions of the Eastern Trail between 1968 and 2005. The Appeals Court indicates, "The gist of the claim is that these conveyances resulted in uses of the land, initially purchased with funds from the Wildlife Restoration Act, contrary to the purposes for which it was initially acquired."
    The Appeals Court rules, ". . .the federal government funded the state's purchase of the property, but it neither funded nor approved the later grant of any of the easements. USFWS may have the power to withhold future funding from the state if the easement violated the regulations and the state does not remedy the violation, 50 C.F.R. § 80.14 (2010), but (to repeat) this power is discretionary. As we conclude that there is no reviewable federal action, neither the federal nor the state officials can be held liable for violating NEPA, as a major federal action is a prerequisite for either."
    Regarding violations of State law, the Appeals Court rules, "As we agree with the district court's dismissal of the federal claims in this suit, there is no abuse of discretion in its decision to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Land, #CA1]
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