National Assn. of Mfrs. v. Department of Defense

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: January 22, 2018
  • Case #: 16-299
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
  • Full Text Opinion

Challenges to the Waters of the United States Rule must be filed in federal district courts.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) uses the term “waters of the United States.” In response to calls for a more precise definition of the term, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers defined the term through a regulation known as the Waters of the United States Rule (Rule). Generally, parties may challenge final EPA actions in federal district courts. However, the CWA provides seven categories in which review lies directly and exclusively with the federal courts of appeals. Petitioner and several other parties challenged the Rule in various federal district courts. Some parties, not including Petitioner, also filed protective petitions for review in various courts of appeals to preserve their challenges. The court of appeals actions were consolidated to the Sixth Circuit. Petitioner intervened as a respondent in the Sixth Circuit and moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that review of the Rule belonged in the federal district courts. The Sixth Circuit denied the motion to dismiss. Respondent contends that the court of appeals has exclusive jurisdiction to review the Rule because it fits into two of the seven categories under the CWA: (1) EPA actions “approving or promulgating any effluent limitation or other limitation under section 1311, 1312, 1316, or 1345” and (2) EPA actions “issuing or denying any permit under section 1342.” The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Rule does not fall within the first or second provision. Analysis of the statutory structure of the first provision indicates that it refers to a restriction on the discharge of pollutants. The Rule does not impose such a restriction. Rather, it announces a regulatory definition. In addition, the Rule does not issue or deny permits as described in the plain language of the second provision. REVERSED and REMANDED. 

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