Wednesday, January 1, 2014

American Electric Power Company, Inc. v. Connecticut case brief

American Electric Power Company, Inc. v. Connecticut case brief summary
131 S.Ct. 2527 (2011)

Respondents, several States, a city, and land trusts, filed federal common law public nuisance claims against petitioner power companies, asking the court to set carbon-dioxide emissions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a dismissal, holding respondents had standing, the nuisance claims were adequately stated, and the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 7401 et seq., did not "displace" federal common law. Certiorari was granted.

The Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions it authorized displaced any federal common law right to seek the relief sought. The Act spoke directly to such emissions. 42 U.S.C.S. § 7411 directed the EPA to list categories of air pollution and establish emission standards. In fact, the EPA was doing so for greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel fired power plants. The Act itself thus provided a means to seek limits on the emissions--the same relief respondents sought by invoking federal common law. The critical point was that Congress delegated to the EPA the decision whether and how to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants; the delegation was what displaced federal common law. The judgments respondents would commit to federal judges, in suits in any federal district, could not be reconciled with the decisionmaking scheme Congress enacted. It was error to find that federal judges could set limits on greenhouse gas emissions in face of a law empowering the EPA to set the same limits, subject to judicial review only to ensure against arbitrary, capricious, or unlawful action under 42 U.S.C.S. § 7607(d)(9).

The Second Circuit's exercise of jurisdiction was affirmed by an equally divided Supreme Court. The judgment of the Second Circuit that claims under the federal common law of nuisance were stated and that the Clean Air Act did not "displace" federal common law was reversed and the case was remanded. 6-0 Decision; 1 concurrence. Justice Sotomayor took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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