United States v. Plaza Health Laboratories, Inc. 3 F.3d 643 (2d. Cir. 1993)
Villegas was the owner of Plaza Health Laboratories. He
filled up his car with vials of human blood that the lab had sampled, took
them to the Hudson River, and tossed them in.
The vials were later found by schoolchildren on a field
EPA charged Villegas with violating the Clean Water Act
by knowingly discharging pollutants into the Hudson River.
Villegas argued that the Clean Water Act only
applies to point source discharges, and he was not a 'point source', and
therefore was not covered by the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act lists examples of point
sources as "pipes, ditches, channels, tunnels, etc" which
invoke physical structures, not people. However the list is
The Trial Court convicted Villegas of violating the Clean
Water Act. He appealed.
The Appellate Court overturned the convictions.
The Appellate Court found that if Congress had intended
the Clean Water Act to include dumping by people, it could have
said "any person who places pollutants in navigable waters without a
permit is guilty of a crime," but it doesn't say that.
A reading of the law shows that it is primarily focused
on industrial and municipal sources of pollution.
The Appellate Court found that since it is not clear whether
Congress intended the Clean Water Act to apply to human beings,
and EPA had not previously issued a ruling on whether it did or not,
Villegas had no warning that what he was doing might be illegal.
The Appellate Court suggested that the government should
have prosecuted Villegas under the Rivers and Harbors Act instead.
That act makes it a crime to throw trash into surface
waters, but it is just a misdemeanor, not a felony like the Clean
In a dissent it was argued that the term "point
source" has been broadly construed to include a wide range of
polluting techniques, so there should be no problem in construing that it
also included people.
The purpose of the law was to prevent pollutants from
entering waterways. How could Congress have intended that it shouldn't
include Villegas' actions?
The Clean Water Act clearly delineates "point
sources" from "non-point sources". Since Villegas'
actions sound more like a point source than a non-point source, they
should be covered.
"Villegas' activity functioned as a discrete
If Villegas was swimming in the water and decided to
pee, should that be covered under the Clean Water Act?