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Court Throws Out Suit Over Bad EPA Raid

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

A federal appeals court threw out a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for raiding a private company's laboratory, even though an agency official later admitted there were insufficient grounds to justify the raid.

The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals said the EPA was entitled to sovereign immunity in Garling v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A trial judge had dismissed the case against Roger and Sheryl Garling as time barred, but the appeals court said the court lacked jurisdiction.

"Sovereign immunity bars all of the Garlings' seven claims and precludes federal court jurisdiction," the court said.

Forced to Resign

Roger and Sheryl Garling, owners and managers of the laboratory, said they lost their jobs and $40 million in damages over the EPA raid. They were working at Energy Laboratories, Inc., in Caspar, Wyoming, when the EPA began investigating a claim that the company was submitting false water quality reports.

On October 30, 2007, EPA investigators and other federal officers executed an armed raid of the company's facilities. They detained the Garlings and other company employees for more than 14 hours.

Several months after the raid, the Garlings later met with Jack Rychecky, the EPA officer in charge of implementing the Safe Drinking Water Act in the region. He said that he had advised EPA investigators against conducting the raid because the agency lacked a sufficient factual basis for it.

In 2012, the EPA dropped its investigation and the Garlings sued for false imprisonment and related claims.

Twice Dismissed

"This raid was conducted based on this limited and inherently unreliable information, without the benefit of a full investigation into ELI's practices and the specific conduct of plaintiffs," their complaint said.

But a trial judge dismissed the Garlings' suit, saying that they had waited more than five years after the raid to file their complaint. The court of appeals reversed that decision, but ordered the trial judge to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds.

The Ninth Circuit said that the EPA's sovereign immunity precludes federal court jurisdiction. Although the immunity can be waived in some cases, the court said, exceptions applied in the Garlings' case.

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