February 2, 2018 Print

Photo: Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is based in Sacramento, Calif. and litigates for limited government, property rights, free enterprise, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations in courts nationwide. In this most recent case, National Association of Manufacturers v. U.S. Department of Defense, PLF represented farmers, ranchers, and landowners nationwide to challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule being partially exempted from judicial review by arbitrarily limiting where victims could sue. On January 22, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of PLF and other respondents; the EPA cannot exempt its “waters of the United States” rule from judicial review.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the rule of law and for accountability in government,” said James S. Burling, vice president for litigation with PLF, in a press release about the Supreme Court’s ruling. “The EPA’s ‘waters of the United States’ rule may be the most brazen—and lawless—expansion of bureaucratic power in American history. The regulators who imposed it tried to shield it from review by limiting opportunities for the public to bring challenges. The Supreme Court struck a blow for liberty by rejecting this ploy and guaranteeing access to justice for the EPA’s victims.”

The Clean Water Act allows for people who are negatively impacted by EPA rules to sue in any federal district court within six years of the institution of the rule in question. However, according to PLF’s press release on the Supreme Court’s decision, “the EPA unilaterally rewrote that provision, decreeing that lawsuits could be filed only in federal courts of appeal. This twisting of the law allowed just 120 days to file WOTUS challenges and concentrated all cases in a single appellate court.”

“If the EPA had succeeded in blocking victims of the WOTUS rule from seeking redress, other agencies would have tried similar ploys,” Burling continued. “The Supreme Court’s rejection of the EPA’s power play strengthens everyone’s right to challenge bureaucratic abuses, all across the governmental landscape.”

This victory for the rule of law reiterates that decisions made by unelected government bureaucrats are not above the law. PLF filed parallel challenges in both federal district and federal appellate courts due to the disputed jurisdictions regarding where to bring challenges to the Clean Water Act. While the Clean Water Act states that legal challenges should be brought in district courts, the Minnesota district court dismissed the case due to concerns about its jurisdiction, and the Sixth Circuit Court asserted its authority to hear such challenges. The National Association of Manufacturers petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Sixth Circuit Court’s case, and all other parties to the related cases – including several of PLF’s clients – were designated as “respondents” in the Supreme Court case. PLF testified before Congress on the WOTUS rule in late November of last year.

Read more about the case here.