||Damien M. Schiff
Senior Staff Attorney
Pacific Legal Foundation
High Court agrees to decide: Can EPA take over property without judicial review?
Washington, DC; June 28, 2011: When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asserts control over private property, claiming it is “wetlands,” does the owner have the right to meaningful judicial review? This is the question in Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a property-rights case accepted today by the United States Supreme Court.
“The decision to take the case and review an anti-property rights ruling by the Ninth Circuit should be encouraging for all property owners, all across the country,” said Damien Schiff, senior staff attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation. Donor-supported PLF is the leading watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations nationwide. Schiff is the lead counsel for the property owners in this litigation, Mike and Chantell Sackett of Priest Lake, Idaho.
"We’re standing up for everyone’s right to go to court when the government hands you a raw deal — or takes over your hard-earned property. Thank goodness PLF has been helping us, and now PLF will be making our case in the nation’s highest court."
The Sacketts were blindsided several years ago when EPA suddenly told them that it considers their small parcel in a residentially zoned neighborhood at Priest Lake to be “wetlands,” and that the federal government — not the Sacketts — controls the property.
The Sacketts sought court review of EPA’s determination. But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that they must first apply for a wetlands development permit — a long and probably fruitless process, the cost of which ($200,000 or more) would exceed the value of their property!
“With this case, the Supreme Court confronts important issues for property rights and due process,” said Damien Schiff. “When government seizes control of your land, and you disagree with the justification, shouldn’t you be allowed your day in court? Just as important, should EPA be a law unto itself, without meaningful accountability to the courts and the Constitution?”
Schiff authored the petition for certiorari that the U.S. Supreme Court granted today.
The Sacketts’ dream: to build a house in a residential neighborhood
The Sacketts’ parcel is in a residentially zoned area, surrounded by houses, and their dream was to build a house of their own. But in 2007, the EPA swooped in with a “compliance order” delivered without any warning or hearings. The agency announced that the land was “wetlands” and under federal control.
The Sacketts deny that their property is wetlands and that the EPA has any authority over it. For instance, there is no standing water on the property or any continuously flowing water connection between their land and Priest Lake. They want to take this case directly to a court, seeking judicial review of EPA’s claim of jurisdiction over their property.
PLF attorney: feds are imposing “a $200,000 price tag on justice”
“The Ninth Circuit’s ruling against the Sacketts amounted to putting a $200,000 price tag on their right to pursue justice,” said Damien Schiff. “If they can’t get judicial review of the EPA’s land grab without going through a long, costly, and probably futile permitting process, then for all intents and purposes, they have been denied their day in court.
“Charging property owners a sky-high admissions fee to get into court isn’t just wrong, it’s flat-out unconstitutional.”
“We’re very encouraged that the Supreme Court has recognized how important our case is,” said Mike Sackett. “We are standing up against an agency that seems to have unlimited resources and few if any limits on what it can do to property owners. We’re standing up for everyone’s right to go to court when the government hands you a raw deal — or takes over your hard-earned property. Thank goodness PLF has been helping us, and now PLF will be making our case in the nation’s highest court.”
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation is the leading legal watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts across the country.