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Law School Case Brief

Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Envtl. Study Grp. - 438 U.S. 59, 98 S. Ct. 2620 (1978)


The essence of the standing inquiry is whether the parties seeking to invoke the court's jurisdiction have alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions. As refined by subsequent reformulation, this requirement of a "personal stake" has come to be understood to require not only a distinct and palpable injury, to the plaintiff but also a "fairly traceable" causal connection between the claimed injury and the challenged conduct.


In an action brought by appellees, environmental organizations and residents of the area near a planned nuclear power facility, the district court determined that the Price-Anderson Act (Act), 42 U.S.C.S. § 2210 et seq., which was intended to protect the public and encourage the development of the private atomic energy industry by limiting the aggregate liability of the industry, was unconstitutional on the ground that it violated the Due Process Clause of U.S. Const. amend. V. Appellant power company sought review of a judgment from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, which determined that appellees, environmental organizations and individuals who resided within close proximity to a planned nuclear power facility, had standing to bring a claim for declaratory relief, and that the Price-Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2210 et seq., was unconstitutional.


May Congress impose a limitation on liability for nuclear accidents resulting from the operation of private nuclear power plants licensed by the federal government?




The Court reversed the district court holding. The Act was presumed constitutional, and the burden was on appellees to show that the legislature had acted in an arbitrary and irrational way. The record supported the need to statutorily limit liability and was found to bear a rational relationship to Congress's concern for stimulating the involvement of private enterprise. The argument as to the arbitrariness of the $ 560 million statutory ceiling on liability was rejected in view of the extremely remote possibility of an accident where liability would exceed the limitation of 42 U.S.C.S. § 2210 (e), whereby Congress committed to take necessary actions to protect the public in case of such a disaster.

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