Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services 528 U.S. 167 (2000)
Laidlaw bought a water
treatment plant. Pursuant to the Clean Water Act, they applied for and received a National
Pollution Discharge Elimination (NPDES) permit to dump treated wastewater
into the North Tyger River.
They then began dumping
wastewater that exceeded their permit limits for toxic pollutants.
Friends of the Earth (FOE)
filed an intention to sue.
Under Article III of the Clean
Water Act, if the government (in
this case the South Carolina Dept. of Health and Environmental Control
(DHEC)) has failed to ensure compliance, a private citizen group could
sue for violations of the Act, but only after giving 60 days notice (see 33
59-days later, Laidlaw and
DHEC came to an agreement where Laidlaw would pay a $100k fine and make
'every effort' to comply with the permit.
FOE sued anyway, alleging that
Laidlaw was still not in compliance with their permit.
Laidlaw moved for summary
judgment on the grounds that FOE lacked standing to sue.
Laidlaw argued that the
citizen suit was barred by §1365(b)(1)(B) because they had reached an agreement with DHEC.
In order to have Article III
standing to bring a lawsuit, you must show injury in fact, causation, and
redressability. (See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife (504 U.S. 555 (1982)).
The Trial Court found that FOE
The Trial Court noted that
in the 6 months between the time that FOE filed suit and the time of
judgment, Laidlaw had violated their permit more 23 times!
The Trial Court found for FOE
and fined Laidlaw $405k. FOE appealed.
FOE appealed because they
wanted the fine to be higher. They did not appeal the judgment.
The Appellate Court reversed
the judgment. FOE appealed.
The Appellate Court assumed
that FOE had standing to sue.
However, the Appellate Court
found that the lawsuit became moot
once Laidlaw and DHEC came to an agreement.
The Court found that the
remedy FOE was seeking, monetary damages paid to the government, would
not redress any injury that FOE had suffered.
The US Supreme Court found for
The US Supreme Court found
that a citizen suitor's claim for civil penalties is not to be dismissed
as moot when the defendant after commencement of the litigation, has come
into compliance with the NPDES permit.
voluntary cessation of allegedly unlawful conduct ordinarily does not
suffice to moot a case."
The Court found that FOE
still had standing to due because even though Laidlaw had reached an
agreement with DHEC, the river was still polluted. They had alleged that
they could not swim in the river because of pollution, so the injury in
fact was still present.
The injury in fact was a
lessening of aesthetic recreational value of the area. That is sort of
general. FOE did not prove particular injury to a particular person,
which is the normal standard, but the Court let it go.
argued that the case was moot because they had closed the wastewater
treatment plant and were no longer polluting. However, the Court found
that Laidlaw still owned the license and therefore could reopen the plant
at any time.
In addition, if not
deterred by a big fine, Laidlaw would be tempted to open similar plants
The Court found that a civil
penalty could be enforced against an entity even though the interests
protected were private.
The Court found that civil
penalties for Clean Water Act
violations "do more than promote immediate compliance by limiting
the defendant's economic incentive to delay its attainment of permit
limits; they also deter future violations."
In a dissent it was argued
that FOE claim was for a private wrong (they couldn't swim in the river),
but that the only remedy available was a public remedy (a fine payable to
the government). Since FOE could not get the money for the fine, and had
already received injunctive relief (Laidlaw promised to come into
compliance with their permit), FOE should not have had standing under
Marrying a private wrong
with a public remedy "violates traditional principles of Federal
standing, thereby permitting law enforcement to be placed in the hands of