451 U.S. 287 (1981), 79-1252, California v. Sierra Club

Docket Nº:No. 79-1252
Citation:451 U.S. 287, 101 S.Ct. 1775, 68 L.Ed.2d 101
Party Name:California v. Sierra Club
Case Date:April 28, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 287

451 U.S. 287 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 1775, 68 L.Ed.2d 101

California

v.

Sierra Club

No. 79-1252

United States Supreme Court

April 28, 1981

Argued January 21, 1981

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 (Act) prohibits

[t]he creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by Congress, to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the Unit.ed States.

An environmental organization and two private citizens (hereafter respondents) brought an action in Federal District Court seeking to enjoin, as a violation of § 10, the construction and operation of water diversion facilities which are part of the California Water Project, a series of water storage and transportation facilities designed to transport water from northern to central and southern California. The District Court held, inter alia, that respondents could avail themselves of a "private cause of action" to enforce § 10, and the Court of Appeals agreed, concluding that the Act was designed for the especial benefit of private parties who may suffer "special injury" caused by unauthorized obstruction to a navigable waterway.

Held:

1. No private action can be implied on behalf of those allegedly injured by a claimed violation of § 10. Pp. 292-298.

(a) Section 10's language, which states no more than a general proscription of certain activities, does not indicate any intent by Congress to provide for private rights of action. Section 10 is the kind of general ban which carries with it no implication of an intent to confer rights on a particular class of persons. P. 294.

(b) Nor is there anything in the legislative history suggesting that § 10 was created for the especial benefit of a particular class. On the contrary, the history suggests the view that the Act was designed to benefit the public at large by empowering the Federal Government to exercise its authority over interstate commerce with respect to obstructions on navigable rivers caused by bridges and similar structures. Pp. 294-296.

2. The question on the merits, raised by petitioner State of California, as to whether the Act requires permits for the state water allocation projects involved in these cases, will not be reached, as the above ruling

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that there is no private cause [101 S.Ct. 1777] of action disposes of the cases. This Court cannot consider the merits of a claim that Congress has not authorized respondents to raise. P. 298.

610 F.2d 581, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 298. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 301.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under review here is a decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holding that private parties may sue under the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 to enforce § 10 of that Act. An environmental organization and two private citizens (hereafter respondents)1 seek to enjoin the construction and operation of water diversion facilities which are part of the California Water Project (CWP). They rely upon § 10 of the Act, which prohibits

[t]he creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by Congress; to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the United States. . . .2

Since the Act does not explicitly create a private

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enforcement mechanism, the initial question presented by these consolidated cases is whether such a private right of action can be implied on behalf of those allegedly injured by a claimed violation of § 10. Petitioner State of California also asks us to decide whether the Act requires permits for the state water allocation projects involved in these cases.

I

The California Water Project consists of a series of water storage and transportation facilities designed primarily to transport water from the relatively moist climate of northern California to the more arid central and southern portions of the State. The water which will be used by the CWP is initially stored behind dams on the Sacramento River and, as needed, released into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The CWP then diverts a quantity of this water from the Delta and directs it into canals and aqueducts which will carry it south. The project has both federal and state components. The federal component, the Central Valley Project, is designed in part to provide a constant source of water for irrigation to the Central Valley of California. Water for this project is diverted from the Delta by the Tracy Pumping Plant into the 115-mile Delta-Mendota Canal, which transports the water to the Mendota Pool in California's Central Valley. The State Water Project supplies water to both central and southern California by way of the California Aqueduct. Water for this project is drawn from the Delta by the Delta Pumping Plant and deposited in the

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northern terminus of the California Aqueduct, [101 S.Ct. 1778] through which it flows to its destinations in central and southern California.

Under the present system, the quality of water captured in the north and released into the Delta may be degraded by intruding salt waters from the Pacific Ocean. As a consequence, the water which is diverted from the Delta to the Delta-Mendota Canal or the California Aqueduct is potentially of a lesser quality than is the water which is transported to the Delta from storage facilities in the north and from there deposited in the Delta. The State of California has proposed the construction of a 42-mile Peripheral Canal along the eastern edge of the Delta area, which would avoid any mixing of the water from the north with the saline water of the Delta. Instead of depositing water in the Delta, the canal would carry high quality water directly to the Tracy and Delta Pumping Plants.

Respondents commenced the present action in 1971 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Sierra Club v. Morton, 400 F.Supp. 610 (1975). Named as defendants were the various federal and state officials who administer the agencies responsible for overseeing the operation, construction, and regulation of the CWP facilities in question.3 Petitioner water agencies, which had contracted with the State for water from the Delta and which had incurred extensive financial obligations in reliance thereon, were permitted to intervene.4 The respondents alleged that present

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and proposed diversions of water from the Delta degraded the quality of Delta water, and that such diversion violated § 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899. They sought to enjoin further operation or construction of water diversion facilities until the consent of the Army Corps of Engineers was obtained, as required by the Act.

The District Court concluded that respondents could avail themselves of a "private cause of action" to enforce § 10 of the Act, and ruled on the merits that approval of the Corps of Engineers was required by § 10 for the Tracy and Delta Pumping Plants and the Peripheral Canal. Sierra Club v. Morton, supra. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed that a private cause of action to enforce the Act existed. Sierra Club v. Andrus, 610 F.2d 581 (1979). It reversed the District Court as to the Tracy Pumping Plant, however, ruling that Congress has consented to its construction and operation.5 We granted petitions for certiorari filed by the water agencies and the State of California. 449 U.S. 818 (1980).

II

Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 (1975), outlined a "preferred approach for determining whether a private right of action should be implied from a federal statute. . . ." Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S. 11, 26 (1979) (WHITE, J., dissenting); see Cannon v. University of Chicago,

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441 U.S. 677 (1979). This approach listed four factors thought to be relevant to the inquiry:

[101 S.Ct. 1779]

First, is the plaintiff "one of the class for whose especial benefit the statute was enacted," . . . -- that is, does the statute create a federal right in favor of the plaintiff? Second, is there any indication of legislative intent, explicit or implicit, either to create such a remedy or to deny one? . . . Third, is it consistent with the underlying purposes of the legislative scheme to imply such a remedy for the plaintiff? . . . And finally, is the cause of action one traditionally relegated to state law, in an area basically the concern of the States, so that it would be inappropriate to infer a cause of action based solely on federal law?

422 U.S. at 78. Combined, these four factors present the relevant inquiries to pursue in answering the recurring question of implied causes of action. Cases subsequent to Cort have explained that the ultimate issue is whether Congress intended to create a private right of...

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