Int'l Paper Co. v. Ouellette
Annotate this Case
479 U.S. 481 (1987)
U.S. Supreme Court
Int'l Paper Co. v. Ouellette, 479 U.S. 481 (1987)
International Paper Co. v. Ouellette
Argued November 4, 1986
Decided January 21, 1987
479 U.S. 481
The Clean Water Act (Act) prohibits the discharge of effluents into navigable waters unless the point source has obtained a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Act also allows the State in which the point source is located (the "source State") to impose more stringent discharge limitations than the federal ones, and even to administer its own permit program if certain requirements are met. In contrast, "affected" States that are subject to pollution originating in source States have only the right to notice and to comment before the issuance of a federal or source State permit. The Act also contains a "saving clause" consisting of § 510, which provides that
"nothing in this chapter shall . . . be construed as impairing . . . any right . . . of the States with respect to the waters (including boundary waters) of such States,"
and § 505(e), which states that
"[n]othing in this section 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. . . ."
Petitioner operates a paper mill on the New York side of Lake Champlain and, in the course of its business, discharged effluents into the lake through a diffusion pipe that ended shortly before the New York-Vermont border that divided the lake. Respondents, property owners on the Vermont shore, filed a class action against petitioner in Vermont state court under the Vermont common law of nuisance. The action was later removed to Federal District Court. Petitioner moved for summary judgment and judgment on the pleadings on the ground that the Act preempted respondents' state-1aw suit, but the District Court denied the motion, holding that the Act's saving clause preserves actions to redress interstate water pollution under the law of the State in which the injury occurred. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
1. The Act preempts the common law of an affected State to the extent that that law seeks to impose liability on a point source in another State. Pp. 479 U. S. 487-497.
(a) Since the Act applies to all point sources and virtually all bodies of water, sets forth detailed procedures for obtaining a permit, and provides an elaborate set of remedies for its violation, it is sufficiently comprehensive
to raise a presumption that Congress intended to preempt all state 1aw suits except those specifically preserved by the Act's terms. Pp. 479 U. S. 491-492.
(b) The Act's saving clause cannot be read broadly to preserve the right to bring suit under the law of an affected State. Section 505(e) merely protects state law suits from preemption by the Act's citizen suit provisions, and does not purport to preclude preemption by other provisions. Furthermore, § 510 can be read to preserve a State's authority only with respect to effluent discharges within that State. Pp. 479 U. S. 492-493.
(c) The application of an affected State's nuisance law to a point source in another State would constitute a serious interference with the implementation of the Act. It would effectively override the EPA's permit requirements and the policy choices made by source States in adopting their own standards, and would engender confusion by subjecting point sources to a variety of often vague and indeterminate common law rules established by different States along the interstate waterways. Pp. 479 U. S. 494-497.
2. The District Court correctly denied petitioner's motion for summary judgment and judgment on the pleadings. Pp. 479 U. S. 497-500.
(a) The Court's preemption holding does not leave respondents without a remedy. Since the Act precludes only those suits that require effluent control standards incompatible with those established by the Act's procedures, and since the Act's saving clause specifically preserves other state actions, aggrieved parties can bring a nuisance claim under the law of the source State, here, New York. Pp. 479 U. S. 497-500.
(b) The Act preempts laws, not courts, and nothing in its provisions prevents a court sitting in an affected State from hearing a common law nuisance suit, provided that jurisdiction otherwise is proper. A district court sitting in diversity is competent to apply the law of a foreign State, and, therefore, Vermont was a proper forum in this case. P. 479 U. S. 500.
776 F.2d 55, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 479 U. S. 500. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 479 U. S. 508.
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