Driftless Area Land Conservancy v. Valcq, No. 20-3325 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
In 2019 the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin issued a permit authorizing two transmission companies and an electric cooperative to build and operate a $500 million, 100-mile power line. Environmental groups filed lawsuits in both federal and state courts, alleging that two of the three commissioners had disqualifying conflicts of interest and should have recused themselves.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the commissioners’ motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity. The commissioners were sued in their official capacities, so sovereign immunity blocks this suit in its entirety unless it falls within the Ex parte Young exception, which authorizes a federal suit against state officials for the purpose of obtaining prospective relief against an ongoing violation of federal law. The environmental groups seek an order enjoining the permit’s enforcement, prospective relief; they contend that the violation is ongoing as long as the permit remains in force and effect and the commissioners have the power to enforce, modify, or rescind it. Ex parte Young applies.
The court, sua sponte, remanded with instructions to stay the case pending resolution of the state proceedings. Both cases raise materially identical due-process recusal claims. The case implicates serious state interests regarding the operation of Wisconsin administrative law and judicial review. Litigating the same questions in both court systems is duplicative and wasteful; comity and the sound administration of judicial resources warrant abstention.