Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co.
206 U.S. 230 (1907)

  • The Tennessee Copper Co. had a smelting facility in Ducktown, TN, that was sending noxious fumes over the border in the Georgia.
    • Some Tennessee residents had sued to get an injunction closing the other smelter in Ducktown, but lost in Madison v. Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Co. (113 Tenn. 331, 83 S.W. 658 (1904))
  • The State of Georgia sued to force Tennessee to shut down the smelter and stop poisoning Georgia residents.
    • The Madison case revolved around the concept of the private nuisance, while this case revolved around the concept of the public nuisance.
      • Madison argued that the pollution was hurting him directly.
      • Georgia did not own a lot of public lands in the area, so the State wasn't being hurt directly.  They argued that, as a sovereign, they had an interest in the land of all Georgia citizens.
    • After the original complaint, Tennessee put in bigger smokestacks, but that just made the sulfur go further downwind and affected more land.
      • "Dilution is not the solution to pollution!"
  • Since this was a 'dispute between the States' as defined in the Constitution, the US Supreme Court had original jurisdiction to hear the case directly.
  • The US Supreme Court issued an injunction and shut down the smelter.
    • The Court found that the smelter was clearly causing damage to land in Georgia.
      • No vegetation at all was alive downwind of the facility.
    • The Court found that granting monetary damages was not appropriate for a public nuisance, because the State of Georgia did not directly suffer economic harm, at least not in a way that could be measured.
      • There was no way to balance the interests of the smelter vs. the interests of the landowner, as the Court had done in Madison.
      • Specific relief (aka an injunction) was the only thing that could work.
  • After this decision, Tennessee Copper Co. came to an agreement with Georgia, but the Ducktown Sulphur, Copper, and Iron Co. defiantly kept polluting until Georgia successfully won an injunction against them 6 years later.