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Supreme Court Denies Cert in LA County Stormwater Runoff Case

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD | Last updated on

On Monday, the Supreme Court released its order list, and while it only granted certiorari in two cases, it denied cert. in a slew of them. One of the cases that it denied had already been before the Supreme Court, was remanded, and the parties field for cert. -- again.

This time around, the Supreme Court said no, and let stand a Ninth Circuit opinion that found Los Angeles County in violation of pollution levels allowed under permit. Read on for details.

It All Started in 2008

In 2008, the Los Angeles Waterkeeper and Natural Resources Defense Council ("NRDC") initiated a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, seeking "to hold the County responsible for documented violations of the Clean Water Act in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers since 2003," according to an NRDC statement. The plaintiffs wanted Los Angeles County to "act immediately to clean up the toxic mix of mercury, arsenic, cyanide, lead and fecal bacteria found in billions of gallons of stormwater runoff."

The district court granted the County's motion for summary judgment because the evidence of pollution was taken downstream from the discharge points. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in relevant part, but the Supreme Court reversed and remanded.

Ninth Circuit Decision

After analyzing the Supreme Court decision, the Ninth Circuit asked the parties to file additional briefs. After consideration, the Ninth Circuit "conclude[d] that the pollution exceedances detected at the County Defendants' monitoring stations are sufficient to establish the County Defendants' liability for NPDES permit violations as a matter of law," and reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded to determine the appropriate remedy. The County petitioned for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Denies Cert

The Supreme Court declined to hear the case -- again -- so the Ninth Circuit's holding is the law. As such, Los Angeles County is liable as a matter of law, and the only question is "a determination of the appropriate remedy for the County Defendants' violations."

Senior Attorney and Water Program Director for the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, Steve Fleischli, released a statement saying, "After six years of litigation, it is finally official: Los Angeles County must take responsibility for its polluted stormwater runoff in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers."

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