WASHINGTON, D.C.;  March 23, 2016:  On Wednesday, March 30, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) case, United States Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc, a potentially precedent-setting case that asks whether landowners may “go to court” if their property is labeled as “wetlands” subject to the federal Clean Water Act.

PLF’s clients are three related, family-owned and run businesses — Hawkes Co., providing peat for golf courses and other sports turf applications; and Pierce Investment and LPF Properties, which own some peat land.  They are prevented from using property in Marshall County, Minnesota, because it has been designated “navigable waters” subject to federal control.

They want to challenge this, because the nearest navigable water — the Red River of the North — is more than 120 river miles away, with no surface water connection between the two.  But the Obama Administration insists such cases cannot be appealed until the landowner has navigated an expensive and lengthy permit process — and been rejected.  Too often, this means justice denied, because the process is so costly and extended.

The Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of Hawkes and PLF, recognizing a right to appeal wetlands Jurisdictional Determinations.  But the Administration refused to give up, so the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case and decide for the entire nation.

Federal wetlands regulators cannot place themselves beyond judicial review

“Of course, the Supreme Court should conclude that courts can review Jurisdictional Determinations under the Administrative Procedure Act,” said Mark Miller, Managing Attorney with PLF’s Atlantic Center in Florida, and one of the PLF attorneys representing Hawkes.  “After the federal government wrongly says a property contains wetlands subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act, a landowner has only three alternatives.  He may:  1) abandon the property; 2) embark on a costly and lengthy permit process that isn’t needed; or 3) use the property and risk huge fines and even incarceration.  These choices amount to no reasonable choice at all.  That is why the property owner should have access to the courts, in order to demonstrate that the property is not subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.”

Read Mark Miller’s blog post about this week’s filing of the Respondents’ Brief, at the PLF Liberty Blog.

PLF’s Hawkes litigation builds on previous PLF cases imposing accountability on wetlands regulators, such as our 2012 Supreme Court victory in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, which secured judicial review for wetlands “compliance orders.”

“When government tries to control people’s lives and property, people should not have courtroom doors slammed in their faces,” said PLF Principal Attorney M. Reed Hopper, who will argue the case before the Supreme Court.  “They must not be denied their day in court.  Otherwise, our system of checks and balances has no meaning.”

Scores of individuals, businesses, organizations, think tanks, and government entities, including 29 states, are siding with Pacific Legal Foundation as “friends of the court.”  In contrast, not one amicus brief has been filed in support of the federal government.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation is the leading legal watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, free enterprise, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts across the country.  PLF represents all clients free of charge.


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About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit law firm that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 18 wins of 20 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you are on deadline and need immediate assistance, or need a comment from a PLF attorney, please contact our media team at media@pacificlegal.org.