453 U.S. 1 (1981), 79-1711, Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Association

Docket Nº:No. 79-1711
Citation:453 U.S. 1, 101 S.Ct. 2615, 69 L.Ed.2d 435
Party Name:Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Association
Case Date:June 25, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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453 U.S. 1 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 2615, 69 L.Ed.2d 435

Middlesex County Sewerage Authority

v.

National Sea Clammers Association

No. 79-1711

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1981

Argued February 24, 1981

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondents (an organization whose members harvest fish and shellfish off the coast of New York and New Jersey and one individual member) brought suit in Federal District Court against petitioners (various governmental entities and officials from New York, New Jersey, and the Federal Government), alleging damage to fishing grounds caused by discharges and ocean dumping of sewage and other waste. Invoking a number of legal theories, respondents sought injunctive and declaratory relief and compensatory and punitive damages. The District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners. It rejected respondents' federal common law nuisance claims on the ground that such a cause of action is not available to private parties. And as to claims based on alleged violations of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) and the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972

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(MPRSA), the court refused to allow respondents to proceed with such claims independently of the provisions of the Act, which authorize private citizens (defined as "persons having an interest which is or may be adversely affected") to sue for injunctions to enforce the Acts, because respondents had failed to give the notice to the Environmental Protection Agency, the States, and any alleged violators required for such citizen suits. The Court of Appeals reversed. With respect to the FWPCA and MPRSA, the court held that failure to comply with the notice provisions did not preclude suits under the Acts in addition to the authorized citizen suits. The court construed the citizen suit provisions as intended to create a limited cause of action for "private attorneys general" ("non-injured" plaintiffs), as opposed to "injured" plaintiffs such as respondents, who have an alternative basis for suit under the saving clauses in the Acts preserving any right which any person may have under "any statute or common law" to enforce any standard or limitation or to seek any other relief. The court then concluded that respondents had an implied statutory right of action. With respect to the federal common law nuisance claims, the court rejected the District Court's conclusion that private parties may not bring such claims.

Held:

1. There is no implied right of action under the FWPCA and MPRSA. Pp. 11-21.

(a) In view of the elaborate provisions in both Acts authorizing enforcement suits by government officials and private citizens, it cannot be assumed that Congress intended to authorize by implication additional judicial remedies for private citizens suing under the Acts. In the absence of strong indicia of a contrary congressional intent, it must be concluded that Congress provided precisely the remedies it considered appropriate. Pp. 13-15.

(b) The saving clauses are ambiguous as to Congress' intent to "preserve" remedies under the Acts. It is doubtful that the phrase "any statute" in those clauses includes the very statute in which the phrase is contained. Since it is clear that the citizen suit provisions apply only to persons who can claim some sort of injury, there is no reason to infer the existence of a separate cause of action for "injured," as opposed to "non-injured" plaintiffs, as the Court of Appeals did. Pp. 15-17.

(c) The legislative history of the Acts does not lead to contrary conclusions with respect to implied remedies under either Act. Rather, such history provides affirmative support for the view that Congress

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intended the limitations imposed on citizen suits to apply to all private suits under the Acts. P. 17.

(d) The existence of the express remedies in both Acts demonstrates that Congress intended to supplant any remedy that otherwise might be available to respondents [101 S.Ct. 2618] under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976 ed., Supp. III) for violation of the Acts by any municipalities and sewerage boards among petitioners. Pp. 19-21.

2. The Federal common law of nuisance has been fully preempted in the area of water pollution by the FWPCA, Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U.S. 304, and, to the extent ocean waters not covered by the FWPCA are involved, by the MPRSA. Pp. 21-22.

616 F.2d 1222, vacated and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 22.

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POWELL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

In these cases, involving alleged damage to fishing grounds caused by discharges and ocean dumping of sewage and other waste, we are faced with questions concerning the availability of a damages remedy, based either on federal common law or on the provisions of two Acts -- the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA), 86 Stat. 816, as amended, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp. III), and the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 (MPRSA), 86 Stat. 1052, as amended, 33 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp. III).

I

Respondents are an organization whose members harvest fish and shellfish off the coast of New York and New Jersey, and one individual member of that organization. In 1977, they brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey against petitioners -- various governmental entities and officials from New York,1 New Jersey,2 and the Federal Government.3 Their complaint alleged that sewage, sewage "sludge," and other waste materials were being discharged into New York Harbor and the Hudson

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River by some of the petitioners. In addition, it complained of the dumping of such materials directly into the ocean from maritime vessels. The complaint alleged that, as a result of these activities, the Atlantic Ocean was becoming polluted, and it made special reference to a massive growth of algae said to have appeared offshore in 1976.4 It then stated that this pollution was causing [101 S.Ct. 2619] the "collapse of the fishing, clamming and lobster industries which operate in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean."5

Invoking a wide variety of legal theories,6 respondents sought injunctive and declaratory relief, $250 million in compensatory damages, and $250 million in punitive damages. The District Court granted summary judgment to petitioners7 on all counts of the complaint.8

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In holdings relevant here, the District Court rejected respondents' nuisance claim under federal common law, see Illinois v. Milwaukee, 406 U.S. 91 (1972), on the ground that such a cause of action is not available to private parties. With respect to the claims based on alleged violations of the FWPCA, the court noted that respondents had failed to comply with the 60-day notice requirement of the "citizen suit" provision in § 505(b)(1)(A) of the Act, 86 Stat. 888, 33 U.S.C. § 1365 (b)(1)(A). This provision allows suits under the Act by private citizens, but authorizes only prospective relief, and the citizen plaintiffs first must give notice to the EPA, the State, and any alleged violator. Ibid.9 Because

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respondents did not give the requisite notice, the court refused to allow them to proceed with a claim under the Act independent of the citizen suit provision and based on the [101 S.Ct. 2620] general jurisdictional grant in 28 U.S.C. § 1331.10 The court applied the same analysis to respondents' claims under the MPRSA, which contains similar citizen suit and notice provisions. 33 U.S.C. § 1415(g).11 Finally, the court rejected a

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possible claim of maritime tort, both because respondents had failed to plead such claim explicitly and because they had failed to comply with the procedural requirements of the federal and state Tort Claims Acts.12

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed as to the claims based on the FWPCA, the MPRSA, the federal common law of nuisance, and maritime tort. National

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Sea Clammers Assn. v. City of New York, 616 F.2d 1222 (1980). With respect to the FWPCA, the court held that failure to comply with the 60-day notice provision in § 505(b)(1)(A), 33 U.S.C. § 1365 (b)(1)(A), does not preclude suits under the Act in addition to the specific "citizen suits" authorized in § 505. It based this conclusion on the saving clause in § 505 (e), 33 U.S.C. § 1365 (e), preserving

any right which any person (or class of persons) may have under any statute or common law to seek enforcement of any effluent standard or limitation or to seek any other relief.

616 F.2d at 1221228; see n. 10, supra. The Court of Appeals then went on to apply our precedents in the area of implied statutory rights of action,13 and concluded that

Congress intended to permit the federal courts to entertain a private cause of action implied from the terms of the [FWPCA], preserved by the savings clause of the Act, on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals who have been or will be injured by pollution in violation of its terms.

616 F.2d at 1230-1231.

The court then applied this same analysis to the MPRSA, concluding again that the District Court had erred in dismissing respondents' claims under this Act. Although the court was not explicit on this question, it apparently concluded that suits for damages, as well as for injunctive relief, could be brought under the FWPCA and the MPRSA.14

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With respect to the federal common law nuisance claims,...

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