Colorado District Attorney lacks standing to bring citizen suit under Clean Water Act

Colorado District Attorney lacks standing to bring citizen suit under Clean Water Act

A local Colorado district attorney, among others, filed suit against a city for allegedly discharging pollutants into a creek in violation of the CWA.  The District Court granted the city's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the district attorney lacked standing.

In Thiebaut et al v. Colo. Springs Utilities et al, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 20663 (10th Cir.: 10/12/11), the Court of Appeals addressed the issue.  Because the State of Colorado had not authorized plaintiff district attorney to represent its sovereign interests in the CWA matter, the Court found that the district attorney did not qualify for parens patriae standing.  Further, the Court noted that because the Colorado Legislature had defined the purpose and duties of plaintiff's office and because it had not granted his office authority to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people of Colorado by filing a CWA citizen suit in federal court, the interests plaintiff sought to protect were not germane to his office's purpose.  Thus, plaintiff lacked associational standing to bring his claims.  Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's "standing for one is standing for all" theory as applied to the case; the general rule that only one plaintiff needed standing to make an issue justiciable did not prohibit a district court, in a multiple plaintiff case, from considering the standing of the other plaintiffs even if it found that one plaintiff had standing.

Since the District Court had found the Sierra Club had standing, and since that issue was not before the Court of Appeals, the case could proceed with the Sierra Club as plaintiff, but not the district attorney.

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