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North Carolina Environmental Justice Network v. Taylor

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20005
Nos. 4:12-cv-154, (E.D.N.C., 12/29/2014) (Dever, J.)

A district court denied a swine farm's motion to strike an environmental group's request for a jury trial in their CWA and RCRA citizen suit. The group's citizen suit alleged that the farm illegally dumped swine waste onto surrounding lands and waters in violation of the two statutes. The farm argued that a party in a citizen suit under the CWA and RCRA is not entitled to a jury determination on the issue of liability for civil penalties. In Tull v. United States, 481 U.S. 412, 17 ELR 20667 (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the defendant-petitioner had a Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial to determine liability on the legal claims. But the farm claimed that Tull is limited to suits involving the government and does not extend to cases brought under the citizen suit provisions of the CWA and RCRA. The court disagreed. Although the group seeks civil penalties under CWA §309(d) by way of §505, they seek the same relief as in a direct enforcement suit. Accordingly, the group is entitled to a jury determination of liability for civil penalties pursuant to the Supreme Court's analysis in Tull. The court also noted that because the relief sought is the same in both a citizen suit and a direct enforcement suit, either party has the right to demand and receive a jury determination of liability for civil penalties.