Law School Case Brief
Georgia v. Tenn. Copper Co. - 206 U.S. 230, 27 S. Ct. 618 (1907)
In the capacity of a quasi-sovereign, a state has an interest independent of and behind the titles of its citizens, in all the earth and air within its domain. It has the last word as to whether its mountains shall be stripped of their forests and its inhabitants shall breathe pure air. It might have to pay individuals before it can utter that word, but with it remains the final power.
The State of Georgia (State) filed a bill alleging that in consequence of a discharge of noxious gases by Tennessee Copper Company (Copper) a wholesale destruction of forests, orchards, and crops was going on, and other injuries were done and threatened in five of its counties. The State filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which was denied. Without objection, the case was tried on affidavits.
Did the State have a right to prevent the pollution caused by the copper companies?
The Court found that, although the State actually owned very little of the land affected, the State's case was brought in its capacity as a quasi-sovereign. The State had an interest behind the titles of its citizens and had the last word as to whether its lands would be damaged in such a manner. The Court found that when the states by their union made the forcible abatement of outside nuisances impossible to each, they did not thereby agree to submit to whatever might be done and they were still able to file suit in the Court. The evidence as to the pollution of the air and the magnitude of that pollution caused by the companies was not open to dispute and the State had the right to prevent the pollution. The Court rejected the argument that the State was guilty of laches because diligence was shown.
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