Unted States v. City of Detroit, No. 11-2517 (6th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
In 1977, the Environmental Protection Agency sued Michigan, Detroit, and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for exceeding effluent limitations and failing to satisfy monitoring requirements under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251. In 1977, the district court entered an initial Consent Judgment. Over the next 30 years, the DWSD fell in and out of compliance. In the most recent round of violations and court orders, the district judge gave a committee of local officials 60 days to fashion a final plan or face more intrusive court-ordered remedies. The judge adopted most of the committee’s recommendations but also directly abrogated some provisions in collective bargaining agreements of approximately 20 different bargaining units. None of the DWSD unions were parties. Unions sought to intervene. The district court denied the motions as untimely. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Although the unions were aware of the potential significance of the proceedings and failed to intervene before the court-approved committee returned its recommendations, total denial of intervention was an abuse of discretion. The unions have substantial interests at stake that “may as a practical matter” be impaired absent intervention. While concerns of delay and re-litigation are serious, they can be alleviated by limiting the scope of intervention.