Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc.

528 U.S. 167 (2000)

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Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc.

United States Supreme Court
528 U.S. 167 (2000)

Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc.

Facts

Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc. (Laidlaw) (defendant) operated a waste facility and obtained a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to discharge certain pollutants into a nearby river. Laidlaw repeatedly exceeded the permit’s limit for mercury discharges. Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups (collectively, FOE) (plaintiffs) notified Laidlaw of their intent to sue for violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA). After the CWA’s 60-day waiting period, FOE filed suit, seeking both injunctive relief requiring compliance and the imposition of civil monetary penalties for Laidlaw’s noncompliance. Affidavits from FOE members stated that their ability to enjoy the river for recreational purposes was diminished because of concerns from Laidlaw’s pollution. Laidlaw argued that (1) FOE lacked standing because it had not incurred any injury and (2) the suit was moot because, after filing but before trial, Laidlaw became substantially compliant with its permit. Because Laidlaw was presently compliant, the district court deemed injunctive relief inappropriate. The court did, however, award civil penalties for past noncompliance. The parties appealed only as to the civil penalties. The court of appeals concluded that the case had become moot because Laidlaw voluntarily ceased the offending conduct and civil penalties would not address any injury FOE had suffered. It therefore remanded with instructions to dismiss the case. Between that decision and the United States Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari, Laidlaw closed the offending facility. The Supreme Court considered both standing and mootness.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Ginsburg, J.)

Concurrence (Stevens, J.)

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