Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

National Wildlife Fed'n v. Gorsuch

ELR Citation: 14 ELR 20736
Nos. No. 83-5753, 744 F.2d 693/21 ERC 1769/(3d Cir., 09/20/1984)

The court rules that a third party that closely monitored litigation on an issue and chose not to press its right of intervention when it became clear that its interests would not be protected, can be precluded from later filing suit to attack the results of a consent decree resolving the litigation. Appellants filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and six New Jersey sewage authorities to block the ocean dumping of sewage sludge in the New York Bight. The decision to allow the dumping was embodied in a consent decree settling litigation between EPA and the New Jersey authorities that in turn was based on a judgment by a U.S. District Court in New York that EPA lacked authority under the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) to ban the dumping. Appellants alleged that this decision violated the MPRSA and the London Convention on ocean dumping.

The court rules that the court below properly dismissed appellants' action as an improper collateral attack on the consent decree in the New Jersey litigation. A consent decree is a judgment and is entitled to a presumption of finality. The doctrine of preclusion of nonparties is new and limited. It should not be invoked to deny a stranger to a lawsuit his day in court. Appellants do not quality for that protection, the court concludes, because they had notice when EPA failed to appeal the New York judgment. An offhand comment by the judge in the New Jersey case, that his dismissal of appellants' motion to intervene did not preclude them from bringing a later action to challenge the inconsistency of the settlement with the London Convention, did not relieve appellants of the need to look out for their own interests in the New Jersey litigation nor did it impair the finality of the consent decree. Finally, the court notes that the consent decree left the final resolution of sludge dumping in the New York Bight to an administrative proceeding in which appellants could participate.

Counsel for Appellants
Thomas K. Bick, Kenneth S. Kamlet
National Wildlife Federation
1412 16th St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 797-6800

Joseph A. Ascione
Fischer, Kagan & Chester
62 Mt. Prospect Ave., Clifton NJ 07013
(201) 779-6300

Counsel for Appellees
Roger J. Marzulla, Julie A. Weisman
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2716

Joseph Freedman
Office of the General Counsel
Environmental Protection Agency, Washington DC 20460
(202) 382-7700

David P. Schneider, Deputy Attorney General
Environmental Protection Section
CN112 Hughes Justice Complex, Trenton NJ 08625
(609) 984-6500

Menelaos W. Toskos
Moses & Toskos
One Essex St., Hackensack NJ 07601
(201) 343-6612

Charles C. Carella
Carella, Byrne, Bain & Gilfilan
Gateway One, Suite 2404, Newark NJ 07095
(2101) 623-1700

Weis, J., joined by Becker and Oliver,* JJ.