United States Department of Energy v. Ohio

503 U.S. 607 (1992)

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United States Department of Energy v. Ohio

United States Supreme Court
503 U.S. 607 (1992)

  • Written by Tammy Boggs, JD

Facts

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) (defendant) operated a uranium-processing plant in the State of Ohio (plaintiff) that was subject to federal and state permit requirements relating to (1) water pollution under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the CWA’s state-law equivalent, and (2) hazardous-waste disposal under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the RCRA’s state-law equivalent. In 1986, Ohio sued the DOE in district court for violating federal and state pollution laws as to the uranium-processing plant, including the CWA, RCRA, and related state laws. Ohio sought federal and state civil penalties. The DOE admitted its polluting activities, and the parties reached a settlement agreement on all but one substantive claim, which was whether Congress had waived the federal government’s sovereign immunity from liability for civil fines imposed for past failure to comply with the CWA, the RCRA, and related state laws that were authorized under federal law to supplant the CWA and RCRA (punitive fines). The DOE conceded that provisions of the CWA and RCRA subjected the federal government to liability for fines imposed to induce compliance with injunctions or court orders (coercive fines). The district court found that both the CWA and RCRA waived federal sovereign immunity from punitive fines by the statutes’ federal-facilities and citizen-suit sections. The Sixth Circuit affirmed and reversed in part, concluding immunity had been waived except through the RCRA’s federal-facilities section. The Supreme Court granted review.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Souter, J.)

Concurrence/Dissent (White, J.)

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