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California v. Sierra Club

ELR Citation: 11 ELR 20357
Nos. Nos. 79-1252, -1502, 451 U.S. 287/15 ERC 1929/(U.S., 04/28/1981) Rev'd

The Court holds that the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 provides no implied private cause of action to enforce §10 of the Act. Respondents sought to enjoin construction of part of the California Water Project, a series of storage and transportation facilities designed to carry water from the northern to the southern end of the state, relying on §10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act, which prohibits obstructions of navigable waters. Both the district court and the appeals court agreed that a private cause of action exists to enforce the Act. The Supreme Court reverses, ruling that §10 of the Act is a general prohibition that implies no intent to confer any rights on private parties. In addition, nothing in the legislative history reflects a congressional intent to provide a private remedy. On the contrary, Congress' silence confirms that the Act was intended to benefit the public generally and to be administered by the federal government. Finally, the court declines to determine whether permits are required for the water allocation project since respondents were not authorized to raise this claim.

Although Justice Stevens believes that Congress intended the Act to authorize a private cause of action, he concurs in the judgment because subsequent Supreme Court case law requires that result. Justice Rehnquist also concurs in the judgment.

Counsel for Petitioners
Roderick E. Walston, Deputy Attorney General
6000 State Bldg., San Francisco CA 94102
(415) 557-3920

Counsel for Respondents
Robert B. Thum
Pettit & Martin
21st Floor, 600 Montgomery St., San Francisco CA 94111
(415) 434-4000

Clifford W. Schulz
Kronick, Moscovitz, Tiedemann & Girard
Suite 855, 555 Capitol Mall, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 444-8920