WASHINGTON, March 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that homeowners may sue when they think the Environmental Protection Agency has treated them unfairly.
The case involves an Idaho couple, Michael and Chantell Sackett, who own a 2.3-acre residential lot in Bonner County just north of Priest Lake, but separated from the lake by several lots containing permanent structures.
Before building a house, the Sacketts filled in part of their lot with dirt and rock. Some months later, they received from the EPA a compliance order saying the wetlands on their property connected with the lake. The lake in turn was considered "navigable" by the EPA, making it a navigable water of the United States. Filling in the wetland was causing pollution to enter the lake.
The Clean Water Act bans "the discharge of any pollutant by any person," without a permit, into "navigable waters."
The order told the Sacketts to restore the land along the lines of an EPA work plan.
The couple was facing some serious fines. Under a federal law, a civil penalty for non-compliance may not exceed $37,500 "per day for each violation." 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 filed suit against the EPA under the federal Administrative Procedure Act, saying their Fifth Amendment due process rights were being violated. A federal judge dismissed their suit for lack of jurisdiction and a federal appeals court agreed.
The Supreme Court reversed.
Writing for the whole court, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Clean Water Act is not a statute that "preclude[s] judicial review" under the Administrative Procedure Act.