Friends of Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167 (2000)

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

No. 98-822. Argued October 12, 1999—Decided January 12, 2000

Defendant-respondent Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., bought a facility in Roebuck, South Carolina, that included a wastewater treatment plant. Shortly thereafter, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), acting under the Clean Water Act (Act), 33 U. S. C. 1342(a)(1), granted Laidlaw a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The permit authorized Laidlaw to discharge treated water into the North Tyger River, but limited, among other things, the discharge of pollutants into the waterway. Laidlaw began to discharge various pollutants into the waterway; these discharges, particularly of mercury, an extremely toxic pollutant, repeatedly exceeded the limits set by the permit.

On April 10, 1992, plaintiff-petitioners Friends of the Earth and Citizens Local Environmental Action Network, Inc. (referred to collectively here, along with later joined plaintiff-petitioner Sierra Club, as "FOE"), notified Laidlaw of their intention to file a citizen suit against it under the Act, 33 U. S. C. 1365(a), after the expiration of the requisite 60-day notice period. DHEC acceded to Laidlaw's request to file a lawsuit against the company. On the last day before FOE's 60-day notice period expired, DHEC and Laidlaw reached a settlement requiring Laidlaw to pay $100,000 in civil penalties and to make "every effort" to comply with its permit obligations.

On June 12, 1992, FOE filed this citizen suit against Laidlaw, alleging noncompliance with the NPDES permit and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and an award of civil penalties. Laidlaw moved for summary judgment on the ground that FOE lacked Article III standing to bring the lawsuit. After examining affidavits and deposition testimony from members of the plaintiff organizations, the District Court denied the motion, finding that the plaintiffs had standing. The District Court also denied Laidlaw's motion to dismiss on the ground that the citizen suit was barred under 1365(b)(1)(B) by DHEC's prior action against the company. After FOE initiated this suit, but before the District Court rendered judgment on January 22, 1997, Laidlaw violated the mercury discharge limitation in its permit 13 times and committed 13 monitoring and 10 reporting violations. In issuing its judgment, the


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