Saturday, May 4, 2013

Rapanos v. United States case brief

Rapanos v. United States case brief
126 S.Ct. 2208 (2006)

CASE SYNOPSIS: In separate cases, petitioners challenged the jurisdiction of respondent U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under 33 U.S.C.S. §§ 1311(a) and 1342 (a) of the Clean Water Act (CWA), to regulate dredging and filling of four separate wetlands. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed jurisdiction, finding the sites had hydrological connections to adjacent navigable waters. Certiorari was granted. The cases were consolidated.

FACTS: The Court considered whether the wetlands, which were near ditches or man-made drains that eventually emptied into traditional navigable waters, were "waters of the United States" under the CWA. One set of petitioners suffered civil and criminal penalties because they had deposited fill material without a permit into three wetlands. It was not clear whether these wetlands were connected to the drains and ditches, were continuous or intermittent, or whether the drains and ditches contained continuous or occasional flows of water. The second set of petitioners was denied a permit to deposit fill material in a wetland where a man-made drainage ditch ran along one side, separated from the wetland by a largely or entirely impermeable berm that may have permitted occasional overflow to the ditch. The Court held that the CWA phrase "the waters of the United States" included only relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water "forming geographic features" described in ordinary parlance as streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes. The phrase did not include intermittent or ephemeral channels, or channels that periodically provided drainage for rainfall.

CONCLUSION: In a plurality opinion, the Court vacated the judgments in both cases and remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the ditches or drains near each wetland were "waters" in the ordinary sense of containing a relatively permanent flow and whether the wetlands in question had a continuous surface connection to bodies that were "waters of the United States" in their own right.

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