International Paper Co. v. Ouellette 479 U.S. 481 (1987)
Ouellette lived in Vermont, across the lake from
International Paper in New York. Paper. The paper company produced a lot
of air pollution and stinky sulfur.
Ouellette sued under the common law concept of the private
The case ended up in Federal Court, where the Federal
Trial Court refused to issue an injunction to stop the paper mill. Ouellette
The Federal Trial Court ruled that the Clean Water Act
preempted Vermont State common law.
The Trial Court found that since International was
compliant with the Clean Water Act, they were legally immune to
State common law complaints.
Basically, if different States were allowed to impose
separate discharge standards on polluters, the inevitable result would
be a serious interference with the "full purpose and objectives of
Congress," which is barred by the Constitution.
The US Supreme Court reversed and allowed the case to
proceed to trial, but under New York law.
The US Supreme Court agreed that the Clean Water Act
precludes a court from applying the law of an affected State against an
out of State source.
However, the Court recognized that the Clean Water Act
did allow States to set higher standards for themselves than mandated by
the Clean Water Act. Therefore a lawsuit brought in the same
State as the polluter would be fine.
Vermont can't tell a New York company what to do, but
New York can tell their own residents what to do.
Basically, the US Supreme Court said that if you want to
sue a polluter under the common law private nuisance, you have to
do it in the State that the polluter is in.
The US Supreme Court made this ruling even though the Clean
Water Act §505(e) contains a provision saying that the Act doesn't
restrict any common law rights.
Btw, on remand, International lost and settled with Ouellette
and other Vermont residents for $5M.