Middlesex County Sewerage Auth. v. Sea ClammersAnnotate this Case
453 U.S. 1 (1981)
U.S. Supreme Court
Middlesex County Sewerage Auth. v. Sea Clammers, 453 U.S. 1 (1981)
Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v.
National Sea Clammers Association
Argued February 24, 1981
Decided June 25, 1981
453 U.S. 1
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE THIRD CIRCUIT
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
(MPRSA), the court refused to allow respondents to proceed with such claims independently of the provisions of the Act, 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.
1. There is no implied right of action under the FWPCA and MPRSA. Pp. 453 U. S. 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. 453 U. S. 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. 453 U. S. 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
intended the limitations imposed on citizen suits to apply to all private suits under the Acts. P. 453 U. S. 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. 453 U. S. 19-21.
2. The Federal common law of nuisance has been fully preempted in the area of water pollution by the FWPCA, Milwaukee v. Illinois,451 U. S. 304, and, to the extent ocean waters not covered by the FWPCA are involved, by the MPRSA. Pp. 453 U. S. 21-22.
616 F.2d 1222, vacated and remanded.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 453 U. S. 22.
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).
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, [Footnote 1] New Jersey, [Footnote 2] and the Federal Government. [Footnote 3] Their complaint alleged that sewage, sewage "sludge," and other waste materials were being discharged into New York Harbor and the Hudson
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. [Footnote 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." [Footnote 5]
Invoking a wide variety of legal theories, [Footnote 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 [Footnote 7] on all counts of the complaint. [Footnote 8]
In holdings relevant here, the District Court rejected respondents' nuisance claim under federal common law, see Illinois v. Milwaukee,406 U. S. 91 (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. [Footnote 9] Because
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. [Footnote 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). [Footnote 11] Finally, the court rejected a
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. [Footnote 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. National
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."
"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. [Footnote 14]
With respect to the federal common law nuisance claims, the Court of Appeals rejected the District Court's conclusion that private parties may not bring such claims. It also held, applying common law principles, that respondents "alleged sufficient individual damage to permit them to recover damages for this essentially public nuisance." Id. at 1234. It thus went considerably beyond Illinois v. Milwaukee,406 U. S. 91 (1972), which involved purely prospective relief sought by a state plaintiff. [Footnote 15]
Petitions for a writ of certiorari raising a variety of argument were filed in this Court by a group of New Jersey sewerage authorities (No. 79-1711), by the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties in New Jersey (No. 79-1754), by the City and Mayor of New York (No. 79-1760), and by all of the federal defendants named in this suit (No. 80-12). [Footnote 16] We granted these petitions, limiting review to three questions: (i) whether FWPCA and MPRSA imply a private
right of action independent of their citizen suit provisions, (ii) whether all federal common law nuisance actions concerning ocean pollution now are preempted by the legislative scheme contained in the FWPCA and the MPRSA, and (iii) if not, whether a private citizen has standing to sue for damages under the federal common law of nuisance. We hold that there is no implied right of action under these statutes, and that the federal common law of nuisance has been fully preempted in the area of ocean pollution. [Footnote 17]
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act was first enacted in 1948. Act of June 30, 1948, 62 Stat. 1155. It emphasized state enforcement of water quality standards. When this legislation proved ineffective, Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, Pub.L. 92-500, 86 Stat. 816, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq. The Amendments shifted the emphasis to "direct restrictions on discharges," EPA v. California ex rel. State Water Resources Control Board,426 U. S. 200, 426 U. S. 204 (1976), and made it "unlawful for any person to discharge a pollutant without obtaining a permit and complying with its terms," id. at 426 U. S. 205. [Footnote 18] While still allowing for state administration and enforcement under federally approved state plans, §§ 402(b), (c), 33 U.S.C. §§ 1342(b), (c), the Amendments created various federal minimum effluent standards, §§ 301-307, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311-1317.
The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of
1972, Pub.L. 9532, 86 Stat. 1052, sought to create comprehensive federal regulation of the dumping of materials into ocean waters near the United States coastline. Section 101(a) of the Act requires a permit for any dumping into ocean waters, when the material is transported from the United States or on an American vessel or aircraft. 33 U.S.C. § 1411(a). [Footnote 19] In addition, it requires a permit for the dumping of material transported from outside the United States into the territorial seas or in the zone extending 12 miles from the coastline, "to the extent that it may affect the territorial sea or the territory of the United States." § 1411(b).
The exact nature of respondents' claims under these two Acts is not clear, but the claims appear to fall into two categories. The main contention is that the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have permitted the New Jersey and New York defendants to discharge and dump pollutants in amounts that are not permitted by the Acts. In addition, they seem to allege that the New York and New Jersey defendants have violated the terms of their permits. The question before us is whether respondents may raise either of these claims in a private suit for injunctive and monetary relief, where such a suit is not expressly authorized by either of these Acts. [Footnote 20]
It is unnecessary to discuss at length the principles set out in recent decisions concerning the recurring question whether Congress intended to create a private right of action under a federal statute without saying so explicitly. [Footnote 21] The key to the inquiry is the intent of the Legislature. Texas Industries, Inc. v. Radcliff Materials, Inc.,451 U. S. 630, 451 U. S. 639 (1981); California v. Sierra Club,451 U. S. 287, 451 U. S. 293 (1981); Universities Research Assn v. Coutu,450 U. S. 754, 450 U. S. 770 (1981); Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis,444 U. S. 11, 444 U. S. 15 (1979); Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington,442 U. S. 560, 442 U. S. 568 (1979). We look first, of course, to the statutory language, particularly to the provisions made therein for enforcement and relief. Then we review the legislative history and other traditional aids of statutory interpretation to determine congressional intent.
These Acts contain unusually elaborate enforcement provisions, conferring authority to sue for this purpose both on government officials and private citizens. The FWPCA, for example, authorizes the EPA Administrator to respond to violations of the Act with compliance orders and civil suits. § 309, 33 U.S.C. § 1319. [Footnote 22] He may seek a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per day, § 309(d), 33 U.S.C. § 1319(d), and criminal penalties also are available, § 309(c), 33 U.S.C. § 1319(c). States desiring to administer their own permit programs must demonstrate that state officials possess adequate authority to abate violations through civil or criminal penalties or other means of enforcement. § 402(b)(7), 33 U.S.C. § 1342(b)(7). In addition, under § 509(b), 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b), "any interested person" may seek judicial
review in the United States courts of appeals of various particular actions by the Administrator, including establishment of effluent standards and issuance of permits for discharge of pollutants. [Footnote 23] Where review could have been obtained under this provision, the action at issue may not be challenged in any subsequent civil or criminal proceeding for enforcement. § 1369(b)(2)
These enforcement mechanisms, most of which have their counterpart under the MPRSA, [Footnote 24] are supplemented by the express citizen suit provisions in § 505(a) of the FWPCA, 33 U.S.C. § 1365(a), and § 105(g) of the MPRSA. 33 U.S.C. § 1415(g). See nn. 911supra. These citizen suit provisions authorize private persons to sue for injunctions to enforce these statutes. [Footnote 25] Plaintiffs invoking these provisions first must comply with specified procedures -- which respondents here ignored -- including in most cases 60 days' prior notice to potential defendants.
In view of these elaborate enforcement provisions, it cannot be assumed that Congress intended to authorize by implication additional judicial remedies for private citizens suing under MPRSA and FWPCA. As we stated in Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, supra,
"it is an elemental canon of statutory construction that, where a statute expressly provides a particular remedy or remedies, a court must be chary
of reading others into it."
444 U.S. at 444 U. S. 19. See also Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, supra, at 442 U. S. 571-574. In the absence of strong indicia of a contrary congressional intent, we are compelled to conclude that Congress provided precisely the remedies it considered appropriate.
As noted above, the Court of Appeals avoided this inference. Discussing the FWPCA, it held that the existence of a citizen suit provision in § 505(a) does not rule out implied forms of private enforcement of the Act. It arrived at this conclusion by asserting that Congress intended in § 505(a) to create a limited cause of action for "private attorneys general" -- "non-injured member[s] of the public" suing to promote the general welfare, rather than to redress an injury to their own welfare. 616 F.2d at 1227. It went on to conclude:
"A private party who is injured by the alleged violation, as these plaintiffs allege they were, has an alternate basis for suit under section 505(e), 33 U.S.C. § 1365(e), and the general federal question jurisdiction of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 1331(1976). Section 505(e) is a savings clause that preserves all rights to enforce the Act or seek relief against the Administrator. Coupled with the general federal question jurisdiction, it permits this suit to be brought by these parties."
Ibid. (footnotes omitted)(emphasis added).
There are at least three problems with this reasoning. First, the language of the saving clause on which the Court of Appeals relied, seen 10, supra, is quite ambiguous concerning the intent of Congress to "preserve" remedies under the WPCA itself. It merely states that nothing in the citizen suit provision
"shall restrict any right which any person . . . may have under any statute or common law to seek enforcement of any effluent standard or limitation or to seek any other relief."
It is doubtful that the phrase "any statute"
includes the very statute in which this statement was contained. [Footnote 26]
Moreover, the reasoning on which the Court of Appeals relied is flawed for another reason. It draws a distinction between "non-injured" plaintiffs who may bring citizen suits to enforce provisions of these Acts, and the "injured" plaintiffs in this litigation, who claim a right to sue under the Acts not by virtue of the citizen suit provisions, but rather under the language of the saving clauses. In fact, it is clear that the citizen suit provisions apply only to persons who can claim some sort of injury, and there is, therefore, no reason to infer the existence of a separate right of action for "injured" plaintiffs. "Citizen" is defined in the citizen suit section of the FWPCA as "a person or persons having an interest which is or may be adversely affected." § 505(g), 33 U.S.C. § 1365(g). It is clear from the Senate Conference Report that this phrase was intended by Congress to allow suits by all persons possessing standing under this Court's decision in Sierra Club v. Morton,405 U. S. 727 (1972). See S.Conf.Rep. No. 92-1236, p. 146 (1972). This broad category
of potential plaintiffs necessarily includes both plaintiffs seeking to enforce these statutes as private attorneys general, whose injuries are "noneconomic" and probably noncompensable, and persons, like respondents, who assert that they have suffered tangible economic injuries because of statutory violations.
Finally, the Court of Appeals failed to take account of the rest of the enforcement scheme expressly provided by Congress -- including the opportunity for "any interested person" to seek judicial review of a number of EPA actions within 90 days, § 509(b), 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b). See supra at 453 U. S. 13-14.
The Court of Appeals also applied its reasoning to the MPRSA. But, here again, we are persuaded that Congress evidenced no intent to authorize by implication private remedies under these Acts apart from the expressly authorized citizen suits. The relevant provisions in the MPRSA are in many respects almost identical to those of the FWPCA. 33 U.S.C. § 1415(g). Although they do not expressly limit citizen suits to those who have suffered some injury from a violation of the Act, we are not persuaded by this fact alone that Congress affirmatively intended to imply the existence of a parallel private remedy, after setting out expressly the manner in which private citizens can seek to enjoin violations.
In Cort v. Ash,422 U. S. 66, 422 U. S. 78 (1975), the Court identified several factors that are relevant to the question of implied private remedies. These include the legislative history. See ibid. ("Second, is there any indication of legislative intent, explicit or implicit, either to create such a remedy or to deny one?"). This history does not lead to a contrary conclusion with respect to implied remedies under either Act. Indeed, the Report and debates provide affirmative support for the view that Congress intended the limitations imposed on citizen suits to apply to all private suits under these Acts. [Footnote 27]
Thus, both the structure of the Acts and their legislative history lead us to conclude that Congress intended that private remedies in addition to those expressly provided should not be implied. [Footnote 28] Where, as here, Congress has made clear that implied private actions are not contemplated, the courts are not authorized to ignore this legislative judgment.
Although the parties have not suggested it, there remains a possible alternative source of express congressional authorization of private suits under these Acts. Last Term, in Maine v. Thiboutot,448 U. S. 1 (1980), the Court construed 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as authorizing suits to redress violations by state officials of rights created by federal statutes. Accordingly, it could be argued that respondents may sue the municipalities and sewerage boards among the petitioners [Footnote 29] under the FWPCA and MPRSA by virtue of a right of action created by § 1983.
It is appropriate to reach the question of the applicability of Maine v. Thiboutot to this setting despite the failure of respondents to raise it here or below. This litigation began long before that decision. Moreover, if controlling, this argument would obviate the need to consider whether Congress intended to authorize private suits to enforce these particular federal statutes. The claim brought here arguably falls within the scope of Maine v. Thiboutot because it involves a suit by a private party claiming that a federal statute has been violated under color of state law, causing an injury. The Court, however, has recognized two exceptions to the application of § 1983 to statutory violations. In Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman,451 U. S. 1 (1981), we remanded certain claims for a determination (i) whether Congress had foreclosed private enforcement of that statute in the enactment itself, and (ii) whether the statute at issue there was the kind that created enforceable "rights" under § 1983. Id. at 451 U. S. 8. In the present cases, because we find that Congress foreclosed a § 1983 remedy under these Acts, we need not reach the second question, whether these Acts created "rights, privileges, or immunities" within the meaning of § 1983.
When the remedial devices provided in a particular Act are sufficiently comprehensive, they may suffice to demonstrate congressional intent to preclude the remedy of suits under § 1983. As JUSTICE STEWART, who later joined the majority in Maine v. Thiboutot, stated in Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Organization,441 U. S. 600, 441 U. S. 673, n. 2 (1979) (dissenting opinion), when
"a state official is alleged to have violated a federal statute which provides its own comprehensive enforcement scheme, the requirements of that enforcement procedure may not be bypassed by bringing suit directly under § 1983. [Footnote 30]"
As discussed above, the FWPCA and MPRSA do provide quite comprehensive enforcement mechanisms. It is hard to believe that Congress intended to preserve the § 1983 right of action when it created so many specific statutory remedies, including the two citizen suit provisions. [Footnote 31] See Chesapeake Bay Foundation v. Virginia State
Water Control Board, 501 F.Supp. 821(ED Va.1980) (rejecting a 1983 action under the FWPCA against the Chairman of a State Water Board, with reasoning based on the comprehensiveness of the remedies provided and the federalism concerns raised). We therefore conclude that the existence of these express remedies demonstrates not only that Congress intended to foreclose implied private actions, but also that it intended to supplant any remedy that otherwise would be available under § 1983. Cf. Carlson v. Green,446 U. S. 14, 446 U. S. 23 (1980).
The remaining two issues on which we granted certiorari relate to respondents' federal claims based on the federal common law of nuisance. The principal precedent on which these claims were based is Illinois v. Milwaukee,406 U. S. 91 (1972), where the Court found that the federal courts have jurisdiction to consider the federal common law issues raised by a suit for injunctive relief by the State of Illinois against various Wisconsin municipalities and public sewerage commissions, involving the discharge of sewage into Lake Michigan. In these cases, we need not decide whether a cause of action may be brought under federal common law by a private plaintiff, seeking damages. The Court has now held
that the federal common law of nuisance in the area of water pollution is entirely preempted by the more comprehensive scope of the FWPCA, which was completely revised soon after the decision in Illinois v. Milwaukee.See Milwaukee v. Illinois,451 U. S. 304 (1981).
This decision disposes entirely of respondents' federal common law claims, since there is no reason to suppose that the preemptive effect of the FWPCA is any less when pollution of coastal waters is at issue. To the extent that this litigation involves ocean waters not covered by the FWPCA, and regulated under the MPRSA, we see no cause for different treatment of the preemption question. The regulatory scheme of the MPRSA is no less comprehensive, with respect to ocean dumping than are analogous provisions of the FWPCA. [Footnote 32]
We therefore must dismiss the federal common law claims, because their underlying legal basis is now preempted by statute. As discussed above, we also dismiss the claims under the MPRSA and the FWPCA, because respondents lack a right of action under these statutes. We vacate the judgment below with respect to these two claims, and remand for further proceedings.
It is so ordered.
* Together with No. 79-1754, Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties v. National Sea Clammers Association, et al.; No. 79-1760, City of New York et al. v. National Sea Clammers Association, et al; and No. 80-12, Environmental Protection Agency et al. v. National Sea Clammers Association, et al., also on certiorari to the same court.
The New York defendants were the New York Department of Environmental Conservation; Ogden R. Reid, individually and as Commissioner of that Department; the City of New York; Abraham Beame, Mayor of New York City; the West Long Beach Sewer District; the County of Westchester Department of Environmental Facilities; the city of Long Beach; and the city of Glen Cove.
The New Jersey defendants were the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; David J. Bardin, individually and as Commissioner of that Department; the Bergen County Sewer Authority; the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties; the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners; the Middlesex County Sewerage Authority; the Linden-Roselle Sewerage Authority; and the Middletown Sewerage Authority.
The federal defendants were the Environmental Protection Agency; Russell E. Train, individually and as EPA Administrator; the Army Corps of Engineers; and Martin R. Hoffman, individually and as Secretary of the Army.
The complaint alleged that this growth of algae was caused by the discharges of sewage and
"covered an area of the Atlantic Ocean ranging from approximately the southwest portion of Long Island, New York to a point approximately due east of Cape May, New Jersey, and extending from a few miles offshore to more than 20 miles out to sea,"
Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.