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U.S. Supreme Court

Middlesex County Sewerage Auth. v. Sea Clammers, 453 U.S. 1 (1981)

Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v.

National Sea Clammers Association

No. 79-1711

Argued February 24, 1981

Decided June 25, 1981*

453 U.S. 1


Respondents (an organization whose members harvest fish and shellfish off the coast of New York and New Jersey and one individual member) brought suit in Federal District Court against petitioners (various governmental entities and officials from New York, New Jersey, and the Federal Government), alleging damage to fishing grounds caused by discharges and ocean dumping of sewage and other waste. Invoking a number of legal theories, respondents sought injunctive and declaratory relief and compensatory and punitive damages. The District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners. It rejected respondents' federal common law nuisance claims on the ground that such a cause of action is not available to private parties. And as to claims based on alleged violations of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) and the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 chanrobles.com-red

Page 453 U. S. 2

(MPRSA), the court refused to allow respondents to proceed with such claims independently of the provisions of the Act, which authorize private citizens (defined as "persons having an interest which is or may be adversely affected") to sue for injunctions to enforce the Acts, because respondents had failed to give the notice to the Environmental Protection Agency, the States, and any alleged violators required for such citizen suits. The Court of Appeals reversed. With respect to the FWPCA and MPRSA, the court held that failure to comply with the notice provisions did not preclude suits under the Acts in addition to the authorized citizen suits. The court construed the citizen suit provisions as intended to create a limited cause of action for "private attorneys general" ("non-injured" plaintiffs), as opposed to "injured" plaintiffs such as respondents, who have an alternative basis for suit under the saving clauses in the Acts preserving any right which any person may have under "any statute or common law" to enforce any standard or limitation or to seek any other relief. The court then concluded that respondents had an implied statutory right of action. With respect to the federal common law nuisance claims, the court rejected the District Court's conclusion that private parties may not bring such claims.


1. There is no implied right of action under the FWPCA and MPRSA. Pp. 453 U. S. 11-21.

(a) In view of the elaborate provisions in both Acts authorizing enforcement suits by government officials and private citizens, it cannot be assumed that Congress intended to authorize by implication additional judicial remedies for private citizens suing under the Acts. In the absence of strong indicia of a contrary congressional intent, it must be concluded that Congress provided precisely the remedies it considered appropriate. Pp. 453 U. S. 13-15.

(b) The saving clauses are ambiguous as to Congress' intent to "preserve" remedies under the Acts. It is doubtful that the phrase "any statute" in those clauses includes the very statute in which the phrase is contained. Since it is clear that the citizen suit provisions apply only to persons who can claim some sort of injury, there is no reason to infer the existence of a separate cause of action for "injured," as opposed to "non-injured" plaintiffs, as the Court of Appeals did. Pp. 453 U. S. 15-17.

(c) The legislative history of the Acts does not lead to contrary conclusions with respect to implied remedies under either Act. Rather, such history provides affirmative support for the view that Congress chanrobles.com-red

Page 453 U. S. 3

intended the limitations imposed on citizen suits to apply to all private suits under the Acts. P. 453 U. S. 17.

(d) The existence of the express remedies in both Acts demonstrates that Congress intended to supplant any remedy that otherwise might be available to respondents under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976 ed., Supp. III) for violation of the Acts by any municipalities and sewerage boards among petitioners. Pp. 453 U. S. 19-21.

2. The Federal common law of nuisance has been fully preempted in the area of water pollution by the FWPCA, Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U. S. 304, and, to the extent ocean waters not covered by the FWPCA are involved, by the MPRSA. Pp. 453 U. S. 21-22.

616 F.2d 1222, vacated and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 453 U. S. 22. chanrobles.com-red

Page 453 U. S. 4


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