273 F.3d 481 (2nd Cir. 2001), 00-9447, Catskill Mts. Ch. Trout Unltd. v City of N.Y.

Docket Nº:Docket No. 00-9447
Citation:273 F.3d 481
Party Name:CATSKILL MOUNTAINS CHAPTER OF TROUT UNLIMITED, INC., THEODORE GORDON FLYFISHERS, INC., CATSKILL-DELAWARE NATURAL WATER ALLIANCE, INC., FEDERATED SPORTSMEN'S CLUBS OF ULSTER COUNTY, INC. AND RIVERKEEPER, INC., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, v. THE CITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND JOEL A. MIELE, SR., COMMISSIONER OF
Case Date:October 23, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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273 F.3d 481 (2nd Cir. 2001)

CATSKILL MOUNTAINS CHAPTER OF TROUT UNLIMITED, INC., THEODORE GORDON FLYFISHERS, INC., CATSKILL-DELAWARE NATURAL WATER ALLIANCE, INC., FEDERATED SPORTSMEN'S CLUBS OF ULSTER COUNTY, INC. AND RIVERKEEPER, INC., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

THE CITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND JOEL A. MIELE, SR., COMMISSIONER OF DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.

Docket No. 00-9447

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

October 23, 2001

Argued: May 25, 2001

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Karl S. Coplan, Esq., Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, Inc. (Basil B. Seggos, on the brief), White Plains, New York, for Appellants.

Ellen S. Ravitch, Esq., Office of the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York (Michael D. Hess, Stephen J. McGrath, Hillary Meltzer, and William S. Plache, on the brief), New York, New York, for Appellees.

Before: Walker, Chief Judge, Katzmann and Cudahy,[*] Circuit Judges.

John M. Walker, Jr., Chief Judge

Plaintiff environmental organizations Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc., Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, Inc., Catskill-Delaware Natural Water Alliance, Inc., Federated Sportsmen's Clubs of Ulster County, Inc., and Riverkeeper, Inc. (collectively "Catskill") appeal from an October 6, 2000 order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., Chief District Judge) granting a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) made by defendants City of New York, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and Joel A. Miele, Sr., Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (collectively "New York City" or "the City"). We conclude that some of Catskill's claims should not have been dismissed and those that were properly dismissed should have been dismissed without prejudice. Accordingly, we reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

BACKGROUND

Since before World War II, New York City has operated Schoharie Dam and Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains, to provide drinking water for New York City. Water is diverted south from the Schoharie Reservoir ("the Reservoir") through the Shandaken Tunnel ("the Tunnel") for several miles and released into Esopus Creek ("the Creek"), which in turn empties into Ashokan Reservoir. The transfer of water from the Reservoir to Esopus Creek and Ashokan Reservoir facilitates its delivery to New York City for use as drinking water.

Absent the tunnel, water leaving the Reservoir would flow north in Schoharie Creek, join the Mohawk River, and flow into the Hudson River. Water from Esopus Creek, on the other hand, makes its way southeast to the Hudson by way of Ashokan Reservoir. Schoharie Reservoir and Esopus Creek are hydrologically connected only insofar as both are tributaries of the Hudson. Under natural conditions, water from the Schoharie Reservoir would never reach Esopus Creek.

Plaintiffs-appellants primarily represent recreational users of Esopus Creek. On November 20, 1998, Catskill sent a letter to the City, the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), and the New York State Department of Conservation ("NYSDEC"), indicating Catskill's intention to file suit in district court under the federal Clean Water Act ("CWA," "the Act"), 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq. The Act permits aggrieved parties to bring civil actions to enforce certain of the statute's requirements against alleged violators. See 33 U.S.C. § 1365 ("Citizen suits").

On March 31, 2000, Catskill filed a complaint in district court alleging that the

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City, as owner and operator of the Schoharie Reservoir and Shandaken Tunnel, was in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a), which prohibits "the discharge of any pollutant" unless those discharges are conducted in accordance with a duly issued discharge permit. 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a) (citing permit requirement in 33 U.S.C. § 1342). Catskill alleged that the Tunnel discharges pollutants in the form of "suspended solids," "turbidity," and heat into Esopus Creek. They alleged that the suspended solids and turbidity are the result of earth-disturbing activities within the Reservoir's watershed that produce fine, red-clay sediments in the Reservoir. They further alleged that the discharges cause the Creek to violate state water quality standards for turbidity and temperature. Esopus Creek, Catskill contended, is naturally clearer and cooler than the water entering it from the Tunnel and supports "one of the premier trout fishing streams in the Catskill Region."

The City responded by moving under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) that the case be dismissed for want of jurisdiction because Catskill's notice-of-intent-to-sue letter ("NOI letter") was inadequate, and a proper NOI letter, they argued, is a jurisdictional prerequisite for a CWA citizen suit. The City also moved pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) that the case be dismissed because, although the City admits that it lacks a permit to discharge into Esopus Creek, it need not obtain one because its releases do not constitute "discharges" as defined by the CWA.

The district court denied the City's Rule 12(b)(1) motion, concluding that Catskill's NOI letter comported with the requirements of the Act and EPA regulations, but granted the Rule 12(b)(6) motion. It found that, as a matter of law, the Reservoir and Tunnel did not effect an "addition" of a pollutant to the Creek, as required to trigger the CWA's permit requirement. See 33 U.S.C. § 1362(12) (defining "discharge of a pollutant" to mean "any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source"). Catskill appealed.

DISCUSSION

The City makes two arguments in support of the district court's dismissal. It first argues that the district court and this court lack subject matter jurisdiction over the case because Catskill's NOI letter, required by the CWA's citizen suit provision, was inadequate and that a proper NOI letter is a prerequisite to the court's subject-matter jurisdiction. Second, the City reiterates its successful argument in the district court, that the complaint failed to state a claim, because Shandaken Tunnel does not effect an "addition" of a pollutant, as required to constitute a "discharge" for which a permit must be sought.

We agree with the City that the NOI letter did not provide adequate notice of Catskill's eventual claim regarding thermal discharges, but find the letter adequate to notify the City of the balance of Catskill's claims. The district court should have dismissed the thermal discharge claims without prejudice, however, and we therefore vacate the judgment with respect to those claims and remand with direction to dismiss them without prejudice to refiling after submission of a conforming NOI letter and after the 60-day delay required by the CWA. We also conclude that the district court erred in dismissing Catskill's complaint on the theory that Shandaken Tunnel does not "discharge" pollutants into Esopus Creek. We therefore reverse the judgment on the remaining claims and remand the case for further proceedings.

I. The Statutory Framework

We begin with an overview of the regulatory regime. The CWA's primary function

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is to regulate the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters. Although the Act contains the lofty goal of eliminating water pollutant discharges altogether, see 33 U.S.C. § 1251(a)(1), the regulatory regime it creates requires principally that discharges be regulated by permit, not prohibited outright. The Act mandates that "the discharge of any pollutant by any person shall be unlawful," 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a), "[e]xcept as in compliance" with other provisions of the statute, one of which establishes a permitting program, the "National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System" ("NPDES"), 33 U.S.C. § 1342. Section 1342 in turn provides for the issuance of discharge permits ("NPDES permits") that allow the holder to discharge pollutants at levels below thresholds incorporated in the permit. 33 U.S.C. § 1342(a); see also 40 C.F.R. § 122.1 et seq. In New York, the NPDES program is administered by NYSDEC and referred to as the State Pollution Discharge Elimination System ("SPDES"). See 33 U.S.C. § 1342(b) (authorizing state implementation of the NPDES program); N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law §§ 17-0105(13), 17-0701.

In the instant case, Catskill alleges that the City has been violating the CWA's unpermitted discharge prohibition by discharging water containing pollutants from Shandaken Tunnel into Esopus Creek without first obtaining an NPDES permit. The Act defines "discharge of a pollutant" to include "any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source." 33 U.S.C. § 1362(12). The Act defines "pollutant," "navigable waters," and "point source," 33 U.S.C. § 1362(6), (7), and (14), but the crux of this appeal is the meaning of "addition," which the Act does not define.

In addition to providing for enforcement by state agencies and the EPA, the CWA allows private parties to enforce its mandates, including the prohibition of unpermitted discharges in § 1311(a), against alleged violators in so-called "citizen suits." See 33 U.S.C. § 1365(a)(1), (f). An aggrieved plaintiff may bring a civil action for specific relief, such as the imposition of particular compliance measures, or...

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