Update: Supreme Court to Decide Whether the CWA Regulates Discharges through Groundwater to Waters of the United States

Sam Boxerman, Featured Expert Contributor, Environmental Law and Policy

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As we anticipated in our post last year, the Supreme Court has granted a petition for a writ of certiorari from the Ninth Circuit in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The justice will decide whether the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates discharges through groundwater that reach a water of the United States (WOTUS). The certiorari grant embraced the Solicitor General’s view, who filed an amicus brief urging the Court to take the case and decide the groundwater discharge issue.

This issue has become a prominent one in CWA jurisprudence recently, with three circuit courts of appeals weighing in on the issue in five decisions in 2018 alone. The circuits are split; the Ninth Circuit and the Fourth Circuit have determined that the CWA does regulate discharges to groundwater, while the FifthSixth, and Seventh Circuits have held that it does not.

If the Court ultimately sustains the Ninth Circuit’s approach, Maui will have far reaching implications for CWA regulation and enforcement, particularly for spills and other releases that reach groundwater. Moreover, the Court is addressing the case at the same time that EPA and the Corps are receiving comments on their proposed revised definition of what is a water of the United States.  Although Maui is not expected to address the definition of WOTUS, the decision will bear close reading for any Supreme Court insights into that all-important Clean Water Act term.

The Court added Maui to the docket for its October Term 2019, which begins this fall on October 7.

*Sam Boxerman is a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Sidley Austin LLP.

 

The First Amendment in the Supreme Court: “Scandalous” Trademarks and Labor Unions

Megan Brown, Featured Expert Contributor, First Amendment

Continue reading “The First Amendment in the Supreme Court: “Scandalous” Trademarks and Labor Unions”

Ninth Circuit Narrowly Vindicates First Amendment in Bellwether Compelled Speech Case

Featured Expert Contributor, First Amendment

By Megan Brown, a Partner with Wiley Rein LLP, with Jeremy Broggi, an Associate with the firm.*  Wiley Rein LLP represents the United States Chamber of Commerce as amicus in American Beverage Ass’n v. San Francisco.

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The tide may be turning on commercial free speech in the context of forced disclosures and warnings, as parties wait for further clarification from the Supreme Court on the level of protection due private speech.  The Ninth Circuit’s recent en banc decision in American Beverage Association v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 16-16072 (9th Cir. Jan. 31, 2019), is a limited step in the right direction, though as concurring opinions make clear, much more needs to be done to fix the doctrinal confusion about compelled speech and properly limit the power of government. Continue reading “Ninth Circuit Narrowly Vindicates First Amendment in Bellwether Compelled Speech Case”

With Emulex Corp., Supreme Court Could Raise Bar for “Merger Tax” Securities Suits

bainbridgeFeatured Expert Contributor, Corporate Governance/Securities Law

Stephen M. Bainbridge, William D. Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law.

In the wake of the Delaware Chancery Court’s pathbreaking decision in the Trulia case,1 which sharply increased the scrutiny given settlements of cases challenging mergers and other takeovers, there has been a dramatic shift of M&A litigation to federal courts.2 How receptive federal courts will be to this flood of new claims will be determined in part by Emulex Corporation, et al., v. Varjabedian, which is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Emulex turns on whether scienter is an element of the private-party cause of action under § 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Section 14(e) prohibits fraud in connection with tender offers and thus will be a key provision in assessing the survivability of these new M&A lawsuits.3 Continue reading “With Emulex Corp., Supreme Court Could Raise Bar for “Merger Tax” Securities Suits”

The Judiciary Can Corral the Administrative State, but Only the People Themselves Can Tame It

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James Madison

The executive power of this nation would, James Madison wrote in Federalist 48, be “restrained” within a “narrow compass.” The judicial power could, in his view, be “described by landmarks still less uncertain.” It was against “the enterprising ambition” of the legislature, he believed, that “the people ought to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions.” Unless the other departments and the people remained vigilant, Madison warned, the legislature would draw “all power into its impetuous vortex.”

This outlook was informed by the excesses of the ancient Athenian mob, which, as Madison put it in Federalist 63, decreed “to the same citizens the hemlock on one day and statues on the next.” But although he still talks, on occasion, like a fanatic, the modern congressman pushes much of his power away with both hands. That power is gladly accepted by the modern bureaucrat, an upstart bent on steering the ship of state off the course set by the Founders. Continue reading “The Judiciary Can Corral the Administrative State, but Only the People Themselves Can Tame It”

Knick v. Scott Township: Whack-a-Mole at the Supreme Court

whackToday’s Supreme Court argument in Knick v. Scott Township made clear that state and local governments are playing Whack-a-Mole with private property rights. Whack-a-Mole is the arcade game in which every time a mole is whacked down, a new one pops up. At issue in Knick is whether to overturn the Court’s 1985 Williamson County decision, which held that Fifth Amendment Takings Clause claimants are generally relegated to state court.

When property rights advocates subsequently pointed out that Williamson County effectively barred property owners from ever asserting their Fifth Amendment rights, state and local governments persuaded the Court to re-interpret the nature of a Takings Clause violation (in its 2005 San Remo Hotel decision) to eliminate the no-right-to-assert problem. But when Justice Gorsuch suggested at today’s oral argument that this revised interpretation of the Takings Clause undercuts Williamson County’s rationale, the attorney for Scott Township denied the validity of the revised interpretation—in effect arguing that San Remo ought to be overruled. Continue reading Knick v. Scott Township: Whack-a-Mole at the Supreme Court”

Update: Solicitor General Encourages SCOTUS to Review Vast Expansion of Clean Water Act

supreme courtA November 2018 commentary by our Featured Expert Contributor on environmental-law matters, Samuel Boxerman (with Ben Tannen), discussed two related petitions for certiorari pending at the U.S. Supreme Court that presented a novel Clean Water Act question: whether a discharge through groundwater is an addition of a pollutant to waters of the United States from a point source.  Decisions from the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and Ninth reasoned that the groundwater qualifies as a point source. Other appeals courts, including the Sixth Circuit, disagree.

In December, the Court invited the Solicitor General of the United States to present the government’s view on whether to grant the petitions. Yesterday, the Solicitor General filed its brief with the Court, urging it to resolve the circuit split.

The brief doesn’t express the government’s legal position on the groundwater-discharge issue, but it does explain why the Ninth Circuit decision, Hawai’i Wildlife Fund v. City of Maui, offers a better vehicle for circuit-split resolution. The Solicitor General also explained that the Environmental Protection Agency’s ongoing review of groundwater’s status as a point source under the CWA (see WLF’s comments here) is not a reason for the justices to deny certiorari.

The question before the Court is a critical one for free enterprise. As Mr. Boxerman and Mr. Tannen wrote in a February 2018 commentary on the Maui decision:

Left as is, the Maui decision could present significant issues across industry.  By holding that the Clean Water Act regulates discharges through groundwater without providing a limiting principle as to when the connection to U.S. waters is too remote, the Ninth Circuit has exponentially increased a source’s risk of liability under the Act.