SW Legal Educational Publishing

Knowledge Does Not Equal Power in PRIG Suit Under Clean Water Act
Description Knowledge of violation under Clean Water Act insufficient to uphold standing of public interest group plaintiff suit; threat of injury or injury in fact to plaintiff must be proven.
Topic Environmental Law
Key Words Clean Water Act, Standing Citizen Suit, Injury in Fact
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Under the citizen suite provision of the Clean Water Act, PRIG (whose members used the creek in question for recreation) sued MEI for violating the terms (monitoring and reporting) of its NPDES permit.
Lower Court Decision PRIG was allowed to prosecute its action against MEI. The court found that MEI's permit violations "caused no harm and posed no threat" to the creek into which it discharged its effluent. The court imposed $2.625 million in penalties and ordered MEI to pay $525,000 in attorney fees for PRIG. MEI appealed the ruling that PRIG had standing.
Court of Appeals Decision Judgment against Elektron vacated. "Organizations may file suit on behalf of their members provided that:
  1. 'the organization's members would have standing to sue on their own,
  2. 'the interests the organization seeks to protect are germane to its purpose, and
  3. 'neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires individual participation of its members.'"
"For an organization to have standing, a plaintiff-member must show:
  1. injury in fact, an invasion of a legally protected interest which is concrete...;
  2. a causal link between the defendant's conduct and the injury, such that the conduct is 'fairly traceable' to that conduct; and
  3. the likelihood that judicial relief will redress the plaintiff's injury."
The Clean Water Act "does not authorize private causes of action against polluters absent some showing of injury or threat of injury." PRIG's knowledge that the NPDES permit is being violated does not, by itself, demonstrate injury. "The legal 'right' to have corporations obey environmental laws cannot, by itself, support standing." Since plaintiff did not have standing, judgment must be vacated.
Citation Public Interest Research Group of New Jersey v. Magnesium Elektron, Inc., ---F.3d--- (1997 WL 434864; 3rd. Cir.)
123 F. 3d 111 (3rd Cir., 1997)

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