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Matthews v. United States

Citation: 12 ELR 20370
No. No. 80-16-ATH, 526 F. Supp. 993/(M.D. Ga., 11/19/1981)

The district court rules that the Army Corps of Engineers abused its discretion in approving the construction and operation of a private dock in a public recreation area on Lake Hartwell in Georgia. Defendant United States, owner of Lake Hartwell, had executed a commercial concession lease authorizing defendant Harbor Light Marian, Inc. to provide and maintain docks for privately owned boats for the benefit of the boating public. Subsequently, the Army Corps of Engineers approved a proposal for construction of a condominium-style boat dock that would be owned and maintained by the individual defendants. The dock, known as Dock F, is adjacent to plaintiff's property and lakehouse. Initially, the court rules that plaintiff has standing to challenge the placement and operation of Dock F, but is without standing to raise her generalized claim that the United States has failed to effectively manage the public lands near Lake Hartwell. Next, the court rules that plaintiff's claim is not barred by laches since plaintiff complained to the Corps about the dock within months of learning of its construction. At that time the dock was substantially completed and, therefore, plaintiff's continued attempts to resolve the matter out of court, instead of initiating suit, did not prejudice the defendants. Turning to the merits, the court refuses to enjoin the discharge of sewage from boats berthed at Dock F since neither the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) classification of Lake Hartwell as a treated discharge zone, 40 C.F.R. § 140.3(a)(1) and (2), nor the Corps' decision to follow EPA's lead in permitting such discharge was unreasonable. The court also rules that the ownership and utilization of a private dock in a public recreation area is a per se violation of the Army Corps of Engineers' regulations governing management of Lake Hartwell, 36 C.F.R. §§ 327.30(d)(1) and 327.30(e)(4)(ii), and the Hartwell Lakeshore Management Plan. Since Harbor Light made Dock F available only to condominium owners, it is a private dock, and the Corps was without discretion to approve its construction and operation. In conclusion, the court denies plaintiff's request for an injunction requiring relocation of Dock F and, instead, enjoins defendants from continuing to operate Dock F as a private facility and order the United States to require Harbor Light to repurchase the dock from the individual defendants and operate it as a public commercial dock. In addition, the court rules that plaintiff is not entitled to recovery of attorneys fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 for vindication of federal civil rights or under the theory that defendants acted unreasonably or in bad faith.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (17 pp. $2.75, ELR Order No. C-1273).

Counsel for Plaintiff
H. Glen Willard Jr., H. Bruce Jackson
Willard & Rushing
800 Grant Bldg., 44 Broad St. NW, Atlanta GA 30303
(404) 577-5824

Counsel for Defendants
Eugene A. Epting
Erwin, Epting, Gibson, McLeod & Blasingame
P.O. Box 1587, Athens GA 30603
(404) 549-9400

William C. Lanham
Johnson, Ward, Stanfield, Lanham & Carr
1750 Equitable Bldg., Atlanta GA 30303
(404) 524-5626

Bernard E. Namie, Ass't U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box U, Macon GA 31202
(912) 745-9211

Owens, J.

[OPINION OMITTED BY PUBLISHER IN ORIGINAL SOURCE]