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California v. United States

Citation: 30 ELR 20633
No. No. 99-15388, 215 F.3d 1005/50 ERC 1900/(9th Cir., 05/31/2000)

The court holds that under the Clean Air Act (CAA), federal entities cannot remove to federal court state and local government actions to enforce air quality laws. A California air quality management district brought a suit against the United States in state court seeking civil penalties for a U.S. Air Force base's violations of the state's air quality requirements. The United States removed the action to federal court pursuant to the federal removal statute. The district court entered final judgment in favor of the United States and held that the CAA did not waive U.S. sovereign immunity from liability for civil penalties imposed by a state to punish past violations of state and local air quality laws.

The court first holds that the case was improperly removed from the state court pursuant to the federal removal statute. The CAA specifically protects the right of state and local government to obtain remedies or sanctions against the federal government in a nonfederal forum pursuant to state and local air quality laws. By guaranteeing the right of state and local governments to obtain judicial remedies and sanctions in state and local courts, the CAA necessarily prohibits the removal of actions that are brought by state and local governments pursuant to their own air quality laws. For, it is impossible to obtain judicial remedies and sanctions in state and local courts once an action is removed to federal court. The court next holds that the case does not present a federal question for the purpose of establishing federal jurisdiction. The claims alleged by the air quality management district are based entirely on state and local laws concerning the control and abatement of air pollution. Therefore, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the action. The court vacates the district court judgment with directions to remand the case to state court.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Kirk E. Trost
Hyde, Miller, Owen & Trost
428 J St., Ste. 400, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 447-7933

Counsel for Defendants
Kathryn E. Kovacs
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000