Los Angeles County Flood Control Dist. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: January 8, 2013
  • Case #: 11-460
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Ginsburg, J., joined by Roberts, C.J., Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, JJ. Alito, J., concurred in the judgment only.
  • Full Text Opinion

The flow of polluted river water through concrete channels and back into the same river does not constitute a "discharge of pollutants" under the Clean Water Act.

Petitioner operates a storm sewer system, and under the Clean Water Act (CWA) was required to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit before discharging storm water into navigable waterways. Respondents sued Petitioner arguing that monitoring stations in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers showed pollution levels that indicated Petitioner had violated the terms of its permit.

The district court granted summary judgment for Petitioner, observing that while recorded pollution levels exceeded water quality standards, the record was inconclusive as to whether Petitioner or the thousands of upstream permit holders had discharged the standards-exceeding pollutants. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Petitioner had discharged polluted water into the rivers when polluted water flowed through concrete channels that housed Petitioner’s water quality monitoring stations.

On review, both parties agreed, and the Court held, that the flow of polluted water through an improved portion of a river and back into the same waterway does not constitute a “discharge of pollutants” under the CWA.

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