Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Sierra Club v. Browner

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20817
Nos. 99-31299, 257 F.3d 444/(5th Cir., 07/09/2001)

The court vacates a district court's references for summary judgment and other liability issues under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to a special master. Two environmental groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Louisiana for failure to comply with CWA §303(d)'s total maximum daily load requirements. The district court referred the case to a special master and subsequently adopted the findings of the special master. The court first holds that the district court abused its discretion by referring the case to a special master. There were no exceptional conditions justifying references to a special master. The fact that the case was pending for two years and had voluminous filings containing highly technical documents was not so exceptional as to require reference to a special master. Similarly, the district court's crowded docket and unfamiliarity with the subject matter hardly excused its obligation to carry out its judicial function. The court also holds that there were no findings or conclusions by the district court revealing a de novo review of the reports, and, thus, a meaningful review of the district court's judgment is impossible. Therefore, the court vacates and remands to the district court the orders of reference, the orders adopting the special master's reports, and the final judgment.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Stuart Henry
Henry, Lowerre, Johnson, Hess & Frederick
202 W. 17th St., Austin TX 78701
(512) 479-8125

Counsel for Defendants
Wells D. Burgess
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Parker, J. Before Garwood and Dennis, JJ.