Sackett v. EPA
566 U.S. ___ (2012)

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Justia Opinion Summary
Petitioners brought a civil action under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq., to challenge the issuance by the EPA of an administrative compliance order under section 309 of the Clean Water Act (Act), 33 U.S.C. 1319. The order asserted that petitioners' property was subject to the Act, and that they have violated its provisions by placing fill material on the property; and on this basis it directed them immediately to restore the property pursuant to an EPA work plan. The Court concluded that the compliance order was final agency action for which there was no adequate remedy other than APA review, and that the Act did not preclude that review. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

SACKETT et vir v. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 10–1062. Argued January 9, 2012—Decided March 21, 2012

The Clean Water Act prohibits “the discharge of any pollutant by any person,” 33 U. S. C. §1311, without a permit, into “navigable waters,” §1344. Upon determining that a violation has occurred, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may either issue a compliance order or initiate a civil enforcement action. §1319(a)(3). The resulting civil penalty may not “exceed [$37,500] per day for each violation.” §1319(d). The Government contends that the amount doubles to $75,000 when the EPA prevails against a person who has been issued a compliance order but has failed to comply.

          The Sacketts, petitioners here, received a compliance order from the EPA, which stated that their residential lot contained navigable waters and that their construction project violated the Act. The Sacketts sought declarative and injunctive relief in the Federal District Court, contending that the compliance order was “arbitrary [and] capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U. S. C. §706(2)(A), and that it deprived them of due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The District Court dismissed the claims for want of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Clean Water Act precluded pre-enforcement judicial review of compliance orders and that such preclusion did not violate due process.

Held: The Sacketts may bring a civil action under the APA to challenge the issuance of the EPA’s order. Pp. 4–10.

     (a) The APA provides for judicial review of “final agency action for which there is no other adequate remedy in a court.” 5 U. S. C. §704. The compliance order here has all the hallmarks of APA finality. Through it, the EPA “determined” “rights or obligations,” Bennett v. Spear, 520 U. S. 154 , requiring the Sacketts to restore their property according to an agency-approved plan and to give the EPA access. Also, “legal consequences . . . flow” from the order, ibid., which, according to the Government’s litigating position, exposes the Sacketts to double penalties in future enforcement proceedings. The order also severely limits their ability to obtain a permit for their fill from the Army Corps of Engineers, see 33 U. S. C. §1344; 33 CFR §326.3(e)(1)(iv). Further, the order’s issuance marks the “consummation” of the agency’s decisionmaking process, Bennett, supra, at 178, for the EPA’s findings in the compliance order were not subject to further agency review. The Sacketts also had “no other adequate remedy in a court,” 5 U. S. C. §704. A civil action brought by the EPA under 33 U. S. C. §1319 ordinarily provides judicial review in such cases, but the Sacketts cannot initiate that process. And each day they wait, they accrue additional potential liability. Applying to the Corps of Engineers for a permit and then filing suit under the APA if that permit is denied also does not provide an adequate remedy for the EPA’s action. Pp. 4–6.

     (b) The Clean Water Act is not a statute that “preclude[s] judicial review” under the APA, 5 U. S. C. §701(a)(1). The APA creates a “presumption favoring judicial review of administrative action.” Block v. Community Nutrition Institute, 467 U. S. 340 . While this presumption “may be overcome by inferences of intent drawn from the statutory scheme as a whole,” ibid., the Government’s arguments do not support an inference that the Clean Water Act’s statutory scheme precludes APA review. Pp. 7–10.

622 F. 3d 1139, reversed and remanded.

     Scalia, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Ginsburg, J., and Alito, J., filed concurring opinions.

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