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Sierra Club v. Aluminum Co. of Am.

ELR Citation: 14 ELR 20663
Nos. No. 82-CV-1304, 585 F. Supp. 842/20 ERC 1916/(N.D.N.Y., 03/15/1984)

The court rules that an environmental group may bring a Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) citizen suit to seek civil penalties for past violations of an expired national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit. The court first rules that the group has standing. It contrues FWPCA §505(a) to allow an organization to bring a citizen suit acting as a representative of its members, concluding that the words "on his own behalf" in the section were intended to bar class actions, not to bar representational standing. Also, the court holds that the group meets the constitutional requirements for standing. It rejects defendant's arguments that (1) since no member of the group has given notice under §505(b), no member has standing; (2) since the group, and not a member, initiated the suit, the group is not acting as a representative; (3) since the injured members do not control the group, it may not represent them; and (4) since the group did not consult its injured members prior to bringing suit, it may not represent them. Instead, the court holds that the only prerequisites for associational standing are that the members have standing in their own right, that the interests at stake are germane to the organization's purposes, and that the members are not indispensable parties to the suit. The group meets these requirements.

The court then refuses to dismiss the group's claims based on violations of an NPDES permit that expired before the suit was brought. First, it accepts the group's argument that further discovery may disclose that violations of the expired permit would also be violations of the current permit. Moreover, the court holds that past violations of an expired permit are redressable in a citizen suit through imposition of civil penalties. The request for injunctive relief for violations of the expired permit is moot, however.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Anthony Z. Roisman
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice
2000 P St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 463-8600

Counsel for Defendant
Marlene W. Jackson
Aluminum Co. of America
Legal Dep't, 1501 Alcoa Bldg., Pittsburgh PA 15219
(412) 553-4545

Grant S. Lewis, Howard S. Ockman
LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby & MacRae
520 Madison Ave., New York NY 10022
(212) 715-8000