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State ex rel. Spannaus v. U.S. Steel Corp.

Citation: 6 ELR 20433
No. No. 674, 240 N.W.2d 316/(Minn., 03/12/1976)

The Minnesota Supreme Court reverses the trial court's dismissal of an action alleging violation of state and federal water quality statutes, holding that the doctrines of primary jurisdiction and exhaustion of administrative remedies are inapplicable to an agency acting as plaintiff, especially where the legislature has given the agency a broad range of discretionary remedies. Initially, the court holds that the lower court's denial of appellant's motion to vacate the first decision does not alter the appealability of that decision. Considering the merits, the court finds that the legislature recognized that effective pollution control requires administrative discretion in choosing a remedy. Exhaustion of remedies does not apply because this case involves no administrative action to be exhausted. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction, which is concerned with the coordination of administrative and judicial action, is not applicable where the agency with whom jurisdiction would lie is itself a party to the judicial action. This reasoning also applies to a possible federal civil enforcement action under the Clean Air Act, especially where the United States Environmental Protection Agency has deferred prosecution to the state agency.

Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant
Eldon Kaul
Alan Mitchell
Pollution Control Agency
1935 W. County Rd., B2
Roseville MN 55113
(612) 296-7301

Counsel for Defendant-Appellee
Benjamin J. Blacik
United States Steel Corporation
800 Missabe
Duluth MN 55802
(218) 626-2711

For the entire bench.