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United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc. - 474 U.S. 121, 106 S. Ct. 455 (1985)

Rule:

Under §§ 301 and 502 of the Clean Water Act (Act), 33 U.S.C.S. §§ 1311 and 1362, any discharge of dredged or fill materials into "navigable waters" -- defined as the "waters of the United States" -- is forbidden unless authorized by a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers pursuant to § 404 of the Act, 33 U.S.C.S. § 1344.

Facts:

The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan seeking to enjoin the owner of a land near the shores of Lake St. Clair in Michigan from filling the property without the permission of the Corps. The suit was based on the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C.S. §§ 1251 et seq., which prohibited any discharge of dredge or fill materials into "navigable waters"--defined as the "waters of the United States"--unless authorized by a permit issued by the Corps, and on regulations promulgated by the Corps under the Act. The Corps had construed the Act as covering all "freshwater wetlands" that were adjacent to other covered waters and had issued the regulations defining such wetlands as those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Based on its findings that the landowner's property was characterized by the presence of vegetation requiring saturated soil conditions for growth and reproduction, that the source of such soil conditions was ground water, and that the wetland on the property was adjacent to a body of navigable water, the District Court held that the property was wetland subject to the Corps' permit authority. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed. Construing the Corps' regulations to exclude from the category of adjacent wetlands--and hence from that of "waters of United States"--wetlands that were not subject to flooding by adjacent navigable waters at a frequency sufficient to support the growth of aquatic vegetation, the Court of Appeals held that the landowner's property was not within the Corps' jurisdiction because its semiaquatic characteristics were not the result of frequent flooding by the nearby navigable waters, and that therefore, the landowner was free to fill the property without obtaining a permit. The United States Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari review.

Issue:

  1. Were the wetlands on the landowner’s property ”navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act?
  2. Could the landowner fill the property without obtaining a permit?

Answer:

1) Yes. 2) No.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that the language, policies, and history of the Clean Water Act compelled a finding that the Corps had acted reasonably in interpreting the Act to require permits for the discharge of fill material into wetlands adjacent to the "waters of the United States.” According to the Court, the regulation in which the Corps had embodied this interpretation by its terms included the wetlands on the landowner's property within the class of waters that may not be filled without a permit. Holding that the Corps' construction of the Act was reasonable, and that the mere implementation of regulations interpreting the Act was not an U.S. Const. amend. V "taking," the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals.

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