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Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo - 456 U.S. 305, 102 S. Ct. 1798 (1982)

Rule:

An injunction is an equitable remedy. It is not a remedy which issues as of course, or to restrain an act the injurious consequences of which are merely trifling. An injunction should issue only where the intervention of a court of equity is essential in order effectually to protect property rights against injuries otherwise irremediable. The basis for injunctive relief in the federal courts has always been irreparable injury and the inadequacy of legal remedies.

Facts:

A number of persons, including the Governor of Puerto Rico and residents of the island, filed an action against the United States Navy in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico to enjoin the Navy's use of an island off the Puerto Rico coast for weapons training, alleging violations of numerous federal environmental statutes and other laws, including the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Act). The District Court found that, under the explicit terms of the Act, the Navy had violated the Act by discharging ordnance into the water surrounding the island without first obtaining a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The District Court ordered the Navy to apply for a permit, but refused to enjoin Navy operations pending consideration of the permit application, concluding that an injunction was not necessary to ensure suitably prompt compliance by the Navy. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the District Court's order and remanded with instructions that the court order the Navy to cease the violation until it obtained a permit, concluding that the District Court erred in undertaking a traditional balancing of the parties' competing interests and that the Navy had an absolute statutory obligation to stop any discharges of pollutant until the permit procedure had been followed and the Administrator of the EPA had granted a permit; thereby, the Court of Appeals instructed the District Court to issue injunctive relief. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue:

Did the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit err when it instructed the district court to issue injunctive relief?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that the Act did not require a Federal District Court to enjoin immediately all discharges that do not comply with the Act's permit requirements, but rather permits a District Court to order that relief it considers necessary to secure prompt compliance with the Act, such relief including, but not being limited to, an order of immediate cessation.

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