78 F.3d 1523 (11th Cir. 1996), 94-8402, Hughey v. JMS Development Corp.

Docket Nº:94-8402, 94-8855.
Citation:78 F.3d 1523
Party Name:Fed.R.Serv.3d 671, 26 Envtl. Terence D. HUGHEY, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JMS DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellant. Terrence D. HUGHEY, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, v. JMS DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellant, Cross-Appellee.
Case Date:April 01, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1523

78 F.3d 1523 (11th Cir. 1996)

Fed.R.Serv.3d 671,

26 Envtl.

Terence D. HUGHEY, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

JMS DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellant.

Terrence D. HUGHEY, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant,

v.

JMS DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellant, Cross-Appellee.

Nos. 94-8402, 94-8855.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 1, 1996

Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied June 17, 1996.

Page 1524

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Ralph Leland Taylor, III, Webb Tanner & Powell, Anthony O.L. Powell, Robert Jackson Wilson, Steven A. Pickens, Lawrenceville, GA, for appellants.

Stephen Edmund O'Day, Smith Gambrell & Russell, Clark Sullivan, Mark W. Kinzer, Atlanta, GA, for appellees.

Before ANDERSON and CARNES, Circuit Judges, and OWENS [*], District Judge.

OWENS, District Judge:

I. INTRODUCTION

Appellant JMS Development Corporation ("JMS") is the developer of a 19.2-acre residential subdivision in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Appellee Terence D. Hughey ("Hughey") is a Gwinnett County homeowner admittedly opposed to all development in Gwinnett County, one of metropolitan Atlanta's fastest growing areas. Hughey's first effort to prevent development of JMS's residential subdivision was an unsuccessful suit in state court filed during the course of construction. After the subdivision had been completed, Hughey sued JMS in United States District Court alleging that JMS's completed subdivision was continuing to violate the Clean Water Act by allowing storm (rain) water runoff without possessing a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System ("NPDES") permit setting forth the conditions under which storm (rain) water could be discharged.

The undisputed evidence showed that JMS submitted its subdivision plans and specifications to Gwinnett County for approval and on March 31, 1992, obtained a county permit to begin construction. The undisputed evidence further showed that a Clean Water Act NPDES permit was not then available in the State of Georgia from the only agency authorized to issue such permits--Georgia's Environmental Protection Division. The district court nevertheless found that the Clean Water Act absolutely prohibited the discharge of any storm (rain) water from JMS's completed subdivision in the absence of an NPDES permit. Relying on this finding and rejecting the uncontroverted testimony that some storm (rain) water discharge beyond the control of JMS would naturally occur whenever it rained, the district court issued permanent injunctive relief pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(d). The injunction ordered that JMS "not discharge stormwater into the waters of the United States from its development property in Gwinnett County, Georgia, known as Rivercliff Place if such discharge would be in violation of the Clean Water Act."

The district court also fined JMS $8,500 for continuing violations of the Clean Water Act and awarded Hughey more than $115,000 in attorney fees and costs under 33 U.S.C. § 1365(d). From those orders and judgment of the district court, JMS appeals.

II. BACKGROUND

  1. The Clean Water Act

    In 1972 Congress passed the Clean Water Act ("CWA") amendments, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1387, to remedy the federal water pollution control program which had "been inadequate in every vital aspect" since its inception in 1948. EPA v. State Water Res. Control Bd., 426 U.S. 200, 203, 96 S.Ct. 2022, 2024, 48 L.Ed.2d 578 (1976). The amended CWA absolutely prohibits the discharge of any pollutant by any person, unless the discharge is made according to the terms of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System ("NPDES") permit. 33 U.S.C.

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    § 1311(a). This "zero discharge" standard presupposes the availability of an NPDES permit, allowing for the discharge of pollutants under the conditions set forth in the permit. Id. § 1342(a)(1). NPDES permits are usually available from the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"); however, 33 U.S.C. § 1342(c)(1) suspends the availability of federal NPDES permits once a state permitting program has been submitted and approved by the EPA. Thus, if a state administers its own NPDES permitting program under the auspices of the EPA, applicants must seek an NPDES permit from the state agency. See 33 U.S.C. § 1342(c)(1); Gwaltney v. Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 484 U.S. 49, 108 S.Ct. 376, 98 L.Ed.2d 306 (1987).

    On June 28, 1974, the State of Georgia was authorized by EPA to administer an NPDES program within its borders. The Georgia agency responsible for administration of that program is the Environmental Protection Division ("EPD") of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. EPA-issued NPDES permits are thus not available in Georgia.

    Even though the absolute prohibition in Section 1311(a) applied to storm water discharges, for many years the discharge of storm (rain) water was a problem that the EPA did not want to address. 1 The EPA complained that administrative concerns precluded a literal application of the CWA's absolute prohibition--if the CWA applied to storm (rain) water discharges, the EPA would be required to issue potentially millions of NPDES permits. Years of litigation ensued when the EPA promulgated NPDES permit regulations exempting uncontaminated storm water discharges from the CWA. See, e.g., Costle, supra note 1.

    The congressional response to this baffling situation was the Water Quality Act, Pub.L. No. 100-4, 101 Stat. 7 (1987) (codified as amended in scattered sections of Title 33 U.S.C.), which amended the CWA to provide specifically that "storm water" discharges were within the CWA's proscription. See 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p). Because of the administrative nightmare presented by the inclusion of storm (rain) water discharges, Congress chose a phased-in approach. "The purpose of this approach was to allow EPA and the states to focus their attention on the most serious problems first." NRDC v. EPA, 966 F.2d 1292, 1296 (9th Cir.1992).

    The phased-in approach established a moratorium until October 1, 1992, on requiring permits for most storm water discharges. Id.; Water Quality Act, § 402(p), 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p). However, "discharge[s] associated with industrial activity" 2 were excepted from this moratorium. Water Quality Act, § 402(p)(2)(B), 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p)(2)(B). Section 402(p)(2)(B) required the EPA no later than February 4, 1989, to establish regulations setting forth permit application requirements for industrial storm water discharges. Those seeking such permits were to file an application no later than February 4, 1990, and permit applications were to be rejected or accepted by February 4, 1991. Id.

    EPA failed to meet the statutory timetable, so it extended the deadline for submitting a permit application until October 1, 1992. The Natural Resources Defense Council ("NRDC") sued the EPA for granting this extension. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted NRDC's request for declaratory relief, but denied injunctive relief, stating the "EPA will duly perform its statutory

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    duties." NRDC v. EPA, 966 F.2d at 1300. On September 3, 1992, the EPA confirmed the Ninth Circuit's faith by issuing its final general permits for storm water discharges associated with industrial activity; applicants were to submit their request for a permit by no later than October 1, 1992.

    Since a state agency's action in advance of that taken by the EPA might be disapproved as inconsistent with the EPA's eventual position, Georgia EPD has always followed the EPA's lead in the promulgation of NPDES permits. See generally Georgia EPD's Amicus Brief, at 5. Consistent with this approach, Georgia EPD began the public notice portion of the storm (rain) water discharge permit promulgation process only after the EPA had acted. On September 23, 1992, less than one month after the EPA had issued its general permits, Georgia EPD issued public notice of its intent to issue two general permits, one of which would cover storm water discharges from construction activities involving land-disturbing activities of five acres or more. An affidavit from the section chief of Georgia EPD's Water Protection Branch summarized the state of the law in Georgia up to that time: "[N]o NPDES program for issuing NPDES permits has been in place [in Georgia] for storm water runoff from construction activities."

  2. The JMS Residential Subdivision

    In early 1992--when NPDES permits covering storm (rain) water were not available in Georgia--JMS planned to develop its 19.2-acre residential subdivision and for that purpose submitted its plans and specifications to Gwinnett County. In developing these plans and specifications, JMS hired a firm of consulting engineers, who were to supervise the design and control of sedimentation control measures and help ensure that JMS remained in compliance with relevant pollution control requirements.

    On March 31, 1992, JMS received a permit from Gwinnett County authorizing it to conduct land-disturbing activities. 3 In accordance with requests from state and county officials, JMS spent more than $30,000 installing state of the art sedimentation control devices, including silt fences, check dams, vegetation, sloping, and a sedimentation retention basin. The erosion and sedimentation control measures met or exceeded Gwinnett County's requirements.

    Prior to beginning construction, JMS had done everything possible to comply with the legal requirements of building a small residential subdivision. On the county level, County Inspector George Michael Fritcher deposed that JMS was in compliance; at the state level, David Word, Chief of EPD's Water Protection Branch, stated that EPD would not (could not) have done anything with...

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