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Mills v. United States

ELR Citation: 25 ELR 20278
Nos. No. 93-2757, 36 F.3d 1052/(11th Cir., 10/27/1994) Aff'd

The court holds that Congress did not unconstitutionally delegate to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) the authority to define "waters of the United States." The Corps has defined the term to include wetlands. Two individuals were convicted of discharging dirt and sand on the wetlands area of their property, were each sentenced to 21-month prison terms and one-year supervised releases, and were ordered to pay $5,250 fines and comply with a site restoration plan. After the Eleventh Circuit upheld the trial court's sentence on direct appeal, the men entered motions under 28 U.S.C. §2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct their sentences.

The court first approves the district court's conclusion that even though the two men procedurally defaulted by failing to raise on direct appeal the claim that Congress unconstitutionally delegated to the Corps its duty to define "waters of the United States," the procedural defect could be properly excused under the fundamental miscarriage of justice exception of the delegation of authority rendered the statute void. The court holds, however, that the FWPCA does not unconstitutionally delegate authority to the Corps by allowing the Agency to define "waters of the United States" to include "wetlands." In United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc., 16 ELR 20086 (U.S. 1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Corps' interpretation of "waters of the United States" to include wetlands adjacent to navigable waters is reasonable and in keeping with the expressed intent of Congress. Moreover, Congress provided sufficiently precise standards with which to judge the delegation issue. The court next holds that the district court did not err in refusing to substantively address the two men's remaining contentions that the evidence supported a finding that the property had lost its wetlands character before their purchase or in refusing to revisit the sufficiency of the evidence. Finally, the court holds that even assuming the claim that the two men were selectively prosecuted for exercising their First Amendment rights is not procedurally barred, it is without substance.

[A previous decision in this litigation is published at 23 ELR 21096.]

Counsel for Petitioners
Ronald W. Johnson
Kinsey, Troxel, Johnson & Walborsky
438 E. Government St., Pensacola FL 32501
(904) 434-5267

Counsel for Respondent
Andrea Ward
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge, FAY and HENDERSON, Senior Circuit Judges.