Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Association Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties v. National Sea Clammers Association City of New York v. National Sea Clammers Association Environmental Protection Agency v. National Sea Clammers Association, Nos. 79-1711

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPOWELL
Citation453 U.S. 1,101 S.Ct. 2615,69 L.Ed.2d 435
PartiesMIDDLESEX COUNTY SEWERAGE AUTHORITY et al., Petitioners, v. NATIONAL SEA CLAMMERS ASSOCIATION et al. JOINT MEETING OF ESSEX AND UNION COUNTIES, Petitioner, v. NATIONAL SEA CLAMMERS ASSOCIATION et al. CITY OF NEW YORK et al., Petitioners, v. NATIONAL SEA CLAMMERS ASSOCIATION et al. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY et al., Petitioners, v. NATIONAL SEA CLAMMERS ASSOCIATION et al
Decision Date25 June 1981
Docket Number79-1754,79-1760 and 80-12,Nos. 79-1711

453 U.S. 1
101 S.Ct. 2615
69 L.Ed.2d 435
MIDDLESEX COUNTY SEWERAGE AUTHORITY et al., Petitioners,

v.

NATIONAL SEA CLAMMERS ASSOCIATION et al. JOINT MEETING OF ESSEX AND UNION COUNTIES, Petitioner, v. NATIONAL SEA CLAMMERS ASSOCIATION et al. CITY OF NEW YORK et al., Petitioners, v. NATIONAL SEA CLAMMERS ASSOCIATION et al. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY et al., Petitioners, v. NATIONAL SEA CLAMMERS ASSOCIATION et al.

Nos. 79-1711, 79-1754, 79-1760 and 80-12.
Argued Feb. 24, 1981.
Decided June 25, 1981.
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

Page 2

(MPRSA), the court refused to allow respondents to proceed with such claims independently of the provisions of the Acts, 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 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 pre-empted in the area of water pollution by the FWPCA, Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U.S. 304, 101 S.Ct. 1784, 68 L.Ed.2d 114, and, to the extent ocean waters not covered by the FWPCA are involved, by the MPRSA. P. 21-22.

616 F.2d 1222 (3rd Cir.), vacated and remanded.

Milton B. Conford, Elberon, N. J., for petitioners in Nos. 79-1711, 79-1754 and 79-1760.

Alan I. Horowitz, Washington, D. C., for petitioners in No. 80-12 and federal respondents in Nos. 79-1711, 79-1754 and 79-1760.

Robert P. Corbin, Philadelphia, Pa., for respondents, National Sea Clammers Association, et al.

Page 4

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 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 petitioners 7 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, 92 S.Ct. 1385, 31 L.Ed.2d 712 (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 Be-

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cause 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 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

Page 8

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. Na-

Page 9

tional 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 1226-1228; 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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1371 practice notes
  • CleanCOALition v. TXU POWER, No. 07-50685.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • 21 Julio 2008
    ...remedy or remedies, a court must be chary of reading others into it." Middlesex County Sewerage Auth. v. Nat'l Sea Clammers Assn., 453 U.S. 1, 14-15, 101 S.Ct. 2615, 69 L.Ed.2d 435 (1981). As the Supreme Court has explained, where Congress has provided "elaborate enforcement provisions" for......
  • State of Mont. v. U.S. E.P.A., No. CV 95-56-M-CCL.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Montana
    • 27 Marzo 1996
    ...Cir.1988). Proposed Intervenors have no statutory basis for suit pursuant to the CWA. See Middlesex Cty. Sewerage Auth. v. Sea Clammers, 453 U.S. 1, 15-18, 101 S.Ct. 2615, 2623-25, 69 L.Ed.2d 435 (concluding that Congress intended that no private remedies be implied by the CWA in addition t......
  • Decker v. Nw. Envtl. Def. Ctr., Nos. 11–338
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • 20 Marzo 2013
    ...standards and issuance of permits for discharge of pollutants.” Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Assn., 453 U.S. 1, 13–14, 101 S.Ct. 2615, 69 L.Ed.2d 435 (1981). Where that review is available, it is the exclusive means of challenging actions covered by the statu......
  • Philippeaux v. North Central Bronx Hosp., No. 94 CIV. 3409 (DLC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • 19 Diciembre 1994
    ...Wright v. Roanoke, 479 U.S. at 423, 107 S.Ct. at 770; see also Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Association, 453 U.S. 1, 19, 101 S.Ct. 2615, 2625-26, 69 L.Ed.2d 435 For the Court to find that a statute creates a right, privilege or immunity enforceable under Sect......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1354 cases
  • CleanCOALition v. TXU POWER, No. 07-50685.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • 21 Julio 2008
    ...remedy or remedies, a court must be chary of reading others into it." Middlesex County Sewerage Auth. v. Nat'l Sea Clammers Assn., 453 U.S. 1, 14-15, 101 S.Ct. 2615, 69 L.Ed.2d 435 (1981). As the Supreme Court has explained, where Congress has provided "elaborate enforcement provisions" for......
  • State of Mont. v. U.S. E.P.A., No. CV 95-56-M-CCL.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Montana
    • 27 Marzo 1996
    ...Cir.1988). Proposed Intervenors have no statutory basis for suit pursuant to the CWA. See Middlesex Cty. Sewerage Auth. v. Sea Clammers, 453 U.S. 1, 15-18, 101 S.Ct. 2615, 2623-25, 69 L.Ed.2d 435 (concluding that Congress intended that no private remedies be implied by the CWA in addition t......
  • Decker v. Nw. Envtl. Def. Ctr., Nos. 11–338
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • 20 Marzo 2013
    ...standards and issuance of permits for discharge of pollutants.” Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Assn., 453 U.S. 1, 13–14, 101 S.Ct. 2615, 69 L.Ed.2d 435 (1981). Where that review is available, it is the exclusive means of challenging actions covered by the statu......
  • Philippeaux v. North Central Bronx Hosp., No. 94 CIV. 3409 (DLC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • 19 Diciembre 1994
    ...Wright v. Roanoke, 479 U.S. at 423, 107 S.Ct. at 770; see also Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Association, 453 U.S. 1, 19, 101 S.Ct. 2615, 2625-26, 69 L.Ed.2d 435 For the Court to find that a statute creates a right, privilege or immunity enforceable under Sect......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
18 books & journal articles
  • Introduction to the CWA and the administrative process
    • United States
    • Introduction to environmental law: cases and materials on water pollution control - 2d Edition
    • 23 Julio 2017
    ...that the citizen suit provisions may be unconstitutional. See, e.g. , Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Ass’n , 453 U.S. 1 [11 ELR 20684] (1981). Furthermore, defendant underestimates the fact that the Administrator is imbued with the discretion to pursue suspecte......
  • Addressing the problem: the judicial branches
    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice - second edition
    • 23 Mayo 2012
    ...that admittedly create substantive private rights. See, e.g. , Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Ass’n , 453 U.S. 1, 19-20 (1981). In the present case, the claim of exclusivity for the express remedial scheme does not even have to overcome such obstacles. The ques......
  • Addressing the Problem: The Judicial Branches
    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice. 3rd Edition
    • 20 Noviembre 2014
    ...that admittedly create substantive private rights. See, e.g. , Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Ass’n , 453 U.S. 1, 19-20 (1981). In the present case, the claim of exclusivity for the express remedial scheme does not even have to overcome such obstacles. he quest......
  • Using Issue Certification Against a Defendant Class to Establish Causation in Climate Change Litigtion
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 52-4, April 2022
    • 1 Abril 2022
    ...of GHGs) is displaced, so too is a federal common-law claim for damages. Middlesex Cnty. Sewage Auth. v. National Sea Clammers Ass’n, 453 U.S. 1, 11 ELR 20684 (1981). 44. 564 U.S. 410, 41 ELR 20210 (2011). 45. Native Vill. of Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil Corp . , 696 F.3d 849, 42 ELR 20195 (9th ......
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