CALIFORNIA V. SIERRA CLUB, 451 U. S. 287 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

California v. Sierra Club, 451 U.S. 287 (1981)

California v. Sierra Club

No. 79-1252

Argued January 21, 1981

Decided April 28, 1981*

451 U.S. 287


Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 (Act) prohibits

"[t]he creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by Congress, to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the Unit.ed States."

An environmental organization and two private citizens (hereafter respondents) brought an action in Federal District Court seeking to enjoin, as a violation of § 10, the construction and operation of water diversion facilities which are part of the California Water Project, a series of water storage and transportation facilities designed to transport water from northern to central and southern California. The District Court held, inter alia, that respondents could avail themselves of a "private cause of action" to enforce § 10, and the Court of Appeals agreed, concluding that the Act was designed for the especial benefit of private parties who may suffer "special injury" caused by unauthorized obstruction to a navigable waterway.


1. No private action can be implied on behalf of those allegedly injured by a claimed violation of § 10. Pp. 451 U. S. 292-298.

(a) Section 10's language, which states no more than a general proscription of certain activities, does not indicate any intent by Congress to provide for private rights of action. Section 10 is the kind of general ban which carries with it no implication of an intent to confer rights on a particular class of persons. P. 451 U. S. 294.

(b) Nor is there anything in the legislative history suggesting that § 10 was created for the especial benefit of a particular class. On the contrary, the history suggests the view that the Act was designed to benefit the public at large by empowering the Federal Government to exercise its authority over interstate commerce with respect to obstructions on navigable rivers caused by bridges and similar structures. Pp. 451 U. S. 294-296.

2. The question on the merits, raised by petitioner State of California, as to whether the Act requires permits for the state water allocation projects involved in these cases, will not be reached, as the above ruling chanrobles.com-red

Page 451 U. S. 288

that there is no private cause of action disposes of the cases. This Court cannot consider the merits of a claim that Congress has not authorized respondents to raise. P. 451 U. S. 298.

610 F.2d 581, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 451 U. S. 298. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 451 U. S. 301. chanrobles.com-red

Page 451 U. S. 289


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