Issues and Cases

PLF and the Sacketts: an important win at the Supreme Court

Contact: M. Reed Hopper

Status: On remand:  The Sacketts filed a supplemental complaint on Apr. 24, 2015.


Case Info & Media

January 9, 2012 Oral Argument

In an unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court rules that landowners have a right to direct, meaningful judicial review if the EPA effectively seizes control of their property by declaring it to be "wetlands." The Court rules in favor of PLF clients Mike and Chantell Sackett, of Priest Lake, Idaho, who were told by EPA -- and by the Ninth Circuit -- that they could not get direct court review of EPA's claim that their two-thirds of an acre parcel is "wetlands" and that they must obey a detailed and intrusive EPA "compliance" order, or be hit with fines of up to $75,000 per day.

Case Talking Points:

On March 21, with a 9-0 vote, the United State Supreme Court ruled that landowners have a right to direct, meaningful judicial review if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effectively seizes control of their property by declaring it to be “wetlands.”

Mike and Chantell are renting a house, but wanted to build a home of their own. Six years ago they bought a 0.63-acre parcel for $23,000.

The Sacketts' parcel is 500 feet west of Priest Lake, separated from the lake by a house and a road.

EPA issued a "compliance" order, demanding that the Sacketts stop construction, remove the gravel and return the land to EPA's liking. Moving the gravel would cost $27,000 — more than what the Sacketts paid for the land.

Read more facts about this case


Case Press:

"The EPA used bullying and threats of terrifying fines, and has made our life hell for the past five years. Now the Supreme Court has come to our rescue."
-- Mike Sackett,
LA Times

"EPA is not above the law. That's the bottom line with today's ruling."
-- PLF Principal Attorney Damien Schiff,

"There is no reason to think that the Clean Water Act was uniquely designed to enable the strong-arming of regulated parties into ‘voluntary compliance’ without the opportunity for judicial review."
-- Justice Antonin Scalia,
New York Times

"Real relief requires Congress to do what it should have done in the first place: provide a reasonably clear rule regarding the reach of the Clean Water Act." -- Justice Samuel A. Alito,  Jr.,
New York Times

 "As this nightmare went on, we rubbed our eyes and started to wonder if we were living in some totalitarian country."
-- Mike Sackett,
The Christian Science Monitor

"Bullying – that’s what the EPA does. They came into our lives, took our property, put us in limbo, told us we can’t do anything with it, and then threatened us with fines."
-- Chantell Sackett,
The Washington Times

"Federal agencies are out of control. The grant of virtually unlimited power with no accountability has gone to the heads of some unelected bureaucrats, and nowhere is that more true than at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)."
-- The Washington Times


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