US Supreme Court Rules Property Owners May Sue the EPA Over a Wetlands Restoration Order

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that two Idaho property owners may bring a legal challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) issuance of an administrative order that required the owners to restore what EPA claimed was an illegally filled wetland. The case, Sackett v. EPA, constitutes a big win for property owners who previously had been stymied in their ability to contest EPA administrative orders until after they complied with an order.

The Sacketts own less than an acre of property near Priest Lake, Idaho. To prepare their property for building a house, the Sacketts filled in part of the lot with dirt and rock. The EPA concluded that (a) the property contained wetlands that were “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, (b) the fill violated the Clean Water Act, and (c) the Sacketts should be required immediately to restore the site. The Sacketts did not believe their property had wetlands, and they tried to contest the EPA’s order. The EPA denied them a hearing, the U.S. District Court in Idaho dismissed their lawsuit, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that the Clean Water Act precludes pre-enforcement judicial review of a compliance order and that there was no violation of due process.

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