Sackett v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, No. 19-35469 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The Sacketts purchased a soggy residential lot near Idaho’s Priest Lake in 2004, planning to build a home. Shortly after the Sacketts began placing sand and gravel fill on the lot, they received an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrative compliance order, indicating that the property contained wetlands subject to protection under the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251(a), and that the Sacketts had to remove the fill and restore the property to its natural state.
The Sacketts sued EPA in 2008, challenging the agency’s jurisdiction over their property. During this appeal, EPA withdrew its compliance order. The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in EPA’s favor. EPA’s withdrawal of the order did not moot the case. EPA’s stated intention not to enforce the order or issue a similar order in the future did not bind the agency. EPA could potentially change positions under new leadership. The court upheld the district court’s refusal to strike from the record a 2008 Memo by an EPA wetlands ecologist, containing observations and photographs from his visit to the property. The court applied the “significant nexus” analysis for determining when wetlands are regulated under the CWA. The record plainly supported EPA’s conclusion that the wetlands on the property were adjacent to a jurisdictional tributary and that, together with a similarly situated wetlands complex, they had a significant nexus to Priest Lake, a traditional navigable water, such that the property was regulable under the CWA.