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United States v. Washington

ELR Citation: 18 ELR 20363
Nos. No. C-87-291-AAM, (E.D. Wash., 01/22/1988)

The court rules that the United States has not waived its sovereign immunity under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for civil penalties imposed in state administrative proceedings. Before a claim for penalties can be assessed against the United States, it must clearly consent to be sued, and waivers affecting the public fisc are to be especially narrowly construed. While RCRA §6001 clearly waives sovereign immunity for sanctions imposed by a court to enforce its injunctive relief, it does not on its face waive immunity from sanctions imposed by an administrative agency. Administrative penalties are not "procedural requirements" under §6001; rather, they are one means by which requirements are enforced. Congress' explicit waiver of sovereign immunity from judicial penalties only makes clearer its intent not to waive immunity from administrative penalties. Policy arguments as to why federal facilities ought to be subject to administrative civil penalties are for Congress to balance, and the court observes that Congress could be reluctant to waive sovereign immunity from state administrative penalties to prevent intergovernmental squabbling and to avoid reallocation of funds Congress has appropriated to particular federal agencies.

[Sovereign immunity in environmental law is analyzed at 15 ELR 10326 and 17 ELR 10114.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
Thomas Rice, Ass't U.S. Attorney
Box 1494, 851 U.S. Courthouse, W. 920 Riverside Ave., Spokane WA 99210
(509) 456-3811

Stephen L. Samuels
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice
L'Enfant Plaza Station, P.O. Box 23986, Washington DC 20026-3986
(202) 633-2000

Counsel for Defendants
Kathleen D. Mix, Ass't Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General
Ecology Division, MS: PV-11, Olympia WA 98504
(206) 753-2550