August 25, 2011

A Sackett update

By A Sackett update

Author: Damien M. Schiff

Last week I had the chance to visit again PLF's clients Mike and Chantell Sackett in Priest Lake, Idaho.  PLF represents the Sacketts in their now four-year struggle to build a family home for themselves near the Lake.  Their homebuilding has been stopped since 2007 because of an EPA compliance order which contends that the Sacketts' lot, within an existing built-out residential subdivision, constitutes wetlands that can be regulated under the Clean Water Act.  The Supreme Court will hear the Sacketts' case next Term to decide whether the Sacketts and other landowners can sue over a compliance order, or whether they must wait until some undetermined point in the future to have their day in court.

Two points struck me about my most recent visit to the Sacketts.  One is that they simply want to build a family home and get the opportunity to have a court tell EPA to back off without being threatened and bullied with tens of thousands of dollars in fines per day.  Isn't that the heart of Due Process of Law?  Another point came to me when the Sacketts took me out on the Lake.  As we were enjoying the lovely sunset, Chantell bent over the side of the boat to pick up some trash floating in the water.  She remarked in an off-hand way that she and Mike have been long-time members of a local group whose goal is to keep Priest Lake clean.  I thought to myself how ironic, that here we have law-abiding and environmentally responsible citizens whom EPA has targeted, when nothing they have done has had any measurable effect on any aquatic resource.  Couldn't all the time and effort EPA has spent in prosecuting this case have been better directed toward things like, gee, helping the Sacketts' group to clean up Priest Lake?

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Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency

Chantell and Michael Sackett received a local permit to build a modest three-bedroom home on a half-acre lot in an existing, partially built-out residential subdivision in Priest Lake, Idaho. The home poses no threat to water quality but federal EPA regulators nonetheless declared their property to contain a wetland and demanded they stop all work and restore the lot to its natural condition or pay fines of up to $75,000 per day. When they sued to challenge this order, EPA asserted they had no right to judicial review. The district court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and tossed their lawsuit out of court. The United States Supreme Court unanimously reversed, ruling that failure to allow the lawsuit violated the Sacketts’ constitutional due process rights. They are now litigating their claims in federal district court in Idaho.

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