Damien M. Schiff
Senior Staff Attorney
Pacific Legal Foundation
Bloomberg Businessweek reports on PLF’s Sackett v. EPA case at Supreme Court
Sacramento, CA; August 18, 2011: The current issue of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine reports on Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pacific Legal Foundation’s high-profile property rights case that the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted for review in the coming term.
The article, by Bloomberg News Supreme Court reporter Greg Stohr, is titled, “Mike and Chantell Sackett vs. the EPA.” It notes that the Sacketts’ case has the potential “to bolster the rights of landowners facing costly demands from the federal government.”
The litigation raises a fundamental question: When EPA declares private property to be “wetlands,” does the owner have the right to meaningful judicial review of the agency’s determination, or may EPA put a freeze on private property without effective court oversight?
Donor-supported PLF is the leading watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts nationwide. PLF attorneys represent the Sacketts free of charge, thanks to the generosity of PLF donors.
The Sacketts’ story — and their fight for their right to their day in court
The Sacketts have to live in a rented home, because EPA has blocked them from building a house on their own property in Priest Lake, Idaho.
Their parcel is in a residential area, with sewer and water hookups, and they got the needed permits to build. But then EPA swooped in, without notice, and announced that the property is “wetlands.” The Sacketts were ordered to return their land to EPA’s liking on pain of ruinous fines.
The Sacketts were stunned, and they dispute EPA’s claim. They hired a soil expert and a biologist, and got a certification that their parcel is not a wetland.
But EPA – and the Ninth Circuit – say they can’t challenge the agency in court! Instead, they would first have to seek a “permit” costing hundreds of thousands of dollars (more than the value of the land!), and bring a legal case when the permit was denied. Or they could violate EPA’s orders and be crushed with penalties of $37,500-plus per day — and then seek court review.
Either way, the courtroom doors are slammed in their faces — unless they pay massive fees or fines!
So this is the crucial issue as PLF attorneys take the Sacketts’ case to the Supreme Court: Can EPA regulators take control of people’s property, simply by issuing a “compliance order” declaring it “wetlands,” without having to justify their actions? Or do Americans still have the right to defend their property rights, in court?
“This case is garnering a lot of attention because it’s a case that could happen to you,” said PLF Senior Staff Attorney Damien M. Schiff, who will argue the Sacketts’ case at the High Court. “The Sacketts are not big developers. They just wanted a family home.”
In Bloomberg Businessweek, Catholic University law professor Amanda Cohen Leiter is quoted saying something similar. Even though she is reported to side with EPA in the case, she admits that the Sacketts “feel like the mom and pop who are getting the heavy hand of government brought down on them.”
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.