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Stringfellow v. Concerned Neighbors in Action

Citation: 17 ELR 20559
No. No. 85-184, 480 U.S. 370/25 ERC 1670/(U.S., 03/09/1987) Rev'd

The Supreme Court rules that a district court order, granting permissive intervention but denying intervention as of right in a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) suit, is not immediately appealable. The United States and California had filed a CERCLA cost recovery and injunctive relief action based on hazardous wastes at the Stringfellow Acid Pits site, and a nonprofit organization of site neighbors sought to intervene in the suit. Noting that the district court's order is not final in the traditional sense, since it does not end the litigation, the Court turns to whether the order nonetheless fits into one of the categories deemed final for purposes of appellate review. The Court first holds that the district court order does not satisfy the "collateral order" exception, since the organization can obtain effective review of its claim on appeal from the district court's final judgment. The Court observes that although this is complex litigation and that this may make an appellate court reluctant to overturn an eventual decision from the district court, the same problem is faced in all cases by a party who is subject to an adverse pretrial order. The Court next holds that conditions placed on the intervenors are not so limiting as to constitute a complete denial of the right to participate, since the organization has access to discovery information and may participate to the extent not duplicative of other parties. Finally, the Court holds that the statutory exception to the requirement for finality found in 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), allowing interlocutory appeals for orders relating to injunctions, does not apply. The district court's order does not have serious consequences that can be effectively challenged only by immediate appeal. In a note, the Court declines to rule on intervenor's argument that the 1986 Amendments to CERCLA provide for intervention as of right in hazardous waste cleanup actions. Interlocutory appeals may not be appealed solely on the grounds that they are legally erroneous.

In an opinion concurring in part, Justices Brennan and Marshall concur in the judgment and concur in its reasoning except for the analysis regarding whether the district court's order so limits intervenors' activities as to constitute a complete denial of intervention. The concurring Justices observe that similar restrictions on the right to appeal are placed on original parties and intervenors as of right, and that alternative means of appellate review are available to these intervenors through a mandamus action.

[The district court order is at 14 ELR 20381. The court of appeals order is at 15 ELR 20402, and its opinion is at 16 ELR 20458, which withdraws the court of appeals' earlier decision at 14 ELR 20799. Other decisions in this litigation appear at 14 ELR 20385, 20388.]

Counsel for Petitioners
David L. Mulliken
Latham & Watkins
Suite 2100, 701 B St., San Diego CA 92101-8197
(619) 236-1234

Counsel for Respondents
Joel R. Reynolds
Center for Law in the Public Interest
10951 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90064
(213) 470-3000