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Environmental Law (United States)

Major Federal Cases

Andrus v. Utah, 446 U.S. 500, 100 S. Ct. 1803

Public Land Case involving the rights of the Secretary of the Interior to approve or disapprove indemnity application.

Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Cmtys. for a Greater Or., 515 U.S. 687, 115 S. Ct. 2407

Regulations under the Endanged Species Act are challenged by industries allegedly dependent on forest products.

Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 117 S. Ct. 1154, 137 L. Ed. 2d 281

Citizen suit under  the Endangered Species Act.

Cappaert v. United States, 426 U.S. 128, 96 S. Ct. 2062, 48 L. Ed. 2d 523

Reviews the United States' rights to reserve water for the purpose of maintaining a habitat for an endangered species.

Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 91 S. Ct. 814

This case established the basic legal framework for the judicial review of administrative agency actions.  It ruled that Secretary of Transportation John Volpe was not legally permitted to authorize the construction of a highway through Overton Park in Memphis Tennessee.

Dep't of Transp. v. Public Citizen, 541 U.S. 752, 124 S. Ct. 2204, 159 L. Ed. 2d 60

Review of regulations promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 

Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Services (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 120 S. Ct. 693, 145 L. Ed. 2d 610

Citizen suit under the Clean Water Act.  Environmental groups claim that a holder of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit was in violation of the stipulations of that permit.

Leo Sheep Co. v. United States, 440 U.S. 668, 99 S. Ct. 1403, 59 L. Ed. 2d 677

Dispute over rights regarding public land granted to a corporate entity under the Union Pacific Act of 1862.

Massachusetts v. Envtl. Protection Agency, 549 U.S. 497, 127 S. Ct. 1438, 167 L. Ed. 2d 248

Review of an order by the Environmental Protection Agency to deny a petition to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act.

National Ass'n of Home Builders v. Defenders of Wildlife, 551 U.S. 644, 127 S. Ct. 2518, 168 L. Ed. 2d 467

Challenge of the EPA's decision to transfer permitting powers under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System to the State of Arizona, which could potentially threaten or jeopardize endangered species.

Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 542 U.S. 55, 124 S. Ct. 2373, 159 L. Ed. 2d 137

Defendant accused of failing to manage off-road vehicle use in areas designated as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs).  Attempt to compel agency action under the Aministrative Procedures Act (APA).

Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizen's Council, 490 U.S. 332, 109 S. Ct. 1835, 104 L. Ed. 351

Challenge of the Forest Service's decision to grant a permit allowing a ski resort on national forest land.

Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715, 126 S. Ct. 2208, 165 L. Ed. 2d 159

Enforcement action under the Clean Water Act against developers allegedly dumping waste into wetlands.  Judicial definition of what constitutes "navigable waters" under the Clean Water Act.

Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, 531 U.S. 159, 121 S. Ct. 675, 148 L. Ed. 2d 576

Challenge of U.S. Army Corp of Engineers' jurisdiction over a site at which the plaintiffs planned to build a non-hazardous solid waste disposal site and the denial of the plaintiff's application for a permit under the Clean Water Act.

Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 92 S. Ct. 1361

This case is important because the Supreme Court would not review the case when the Sierra Club claimed an injury as a corporate entity but would review the case if one or more of the members of the Sierra Club claimed personal injury, because a government action affected their aestheitc or recreational interest.

Tenn. Valley Auth. v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 98 S. Ct. 2279, 57 L. Ed. 2d 117

Action under the Endangered Species Act to stop the building of a federally funded damn on the Little Tennessee River.

Vt. Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Def. Council, 435 U.S. 519, 98 S. Ct. 1197

This case established that a court cannot impose upon an agency to adopt certain rulemaking procedures.

Case Law Resources

DOJ summaries of litigation

The Department of Justice creates reports that summarize environmental litigation with which they are invovled at the end of each year.  The reports are in pdf format.

Databases in WestLaw:

Federal Environmental Law Headnotes (FENV-HN) Contains headnotes to decisions from all federal courts that pertain to environmental law.  Includes U.S. Supreme Court, courts of appeals, district courts, bankruptcy courts, Court of Federal Claims, Tax Court, military courts, and related federal and territorial courts.

Cases - All Courts (FENV-CS) Cases decided in federal courts pertaining to environmental law.  Includes U.S. Supreme Court, courts of appeals, district courts, bankruptcy courts, Court of Federal Claims, Tax Court, military courts, and related federal and territorial courts.  Coverage begins with 1789.

Supreme Court (FENV-SCT) Cases decided in the United States Supreme Court that pertain to environmental law.  Coverage begins in 1790.

Courts of Appeals (FENV-CTA) Cases decided in the United States Courts of Appeals that pertain to environmental law. Also includes cases from Court of Customs and Patent Appeals.

District Courts (FENV-DCT) Cases decided in the United States District Courts that pertain to environmental law. Includes Bankruptcy Court, and Customs Court cases.

Westlaw Journal Environmental (WJENV) Covers recent developments in environmental litigation at the federal and state levels.

Databases in Lexis:

Environmental Law Reporter Litigation & Pending Litigation Materials    State and federal court decisions pertaining to environmental law.

Environmental Law Reporter Litigation Materials    Federal and state court decisions on environmental law issues.  Dates from 1969 to current.

Professor Dan Selmi on Ten Environmental Law Cases from 2010    Analysis of important emerging trends in environmental law.

Marten Law: Supreme Court Preview of 2 Environmental Cases for 2011-12 Term    A sneak peak at upcoming important cases in environmental law.

Digest of Environmental Law    Reports on nationally significant cases in environmental law.  Aimed at the practitioner.

Administrative Decisions

Environmental Administrative Decisions: Decisions of the United States Environmental Protection Agency  

available on HeinOnline at

Forest Service Appeal Responses

Track the Forest Service's Environmental Appeals.


Federal Environmental Law - E.P.A. Decisions (FENV-EPA)

Federal Environmental Law - Ocean Resources and Wildlife Reporter (FENV-ORW)
Federal Environmental Law-OSWER Directives (FENV-OSWER) 


Environmental Law Reporter Administrative Materials    Provides information about decisions under CERCLA and RCRA as well as the full text of informal internal memoranda about procedure and full text executive orders.

Environmental Law Institute Guidance and Policy Documents    Admistrative materials, policy documents, legislative information, etc. Documents provide insight into how the EPA assesses violations, assigns fines and plans for litigation.

Common Law Remedies

Environmental law evovled out of personal injury law.  Some of the common law remedies can still be applied when litigation is between private parties.  Some common law remedies that are frequently applied are:




Strict Liability

Emotional Distress

Enhanced Risk of Future Illness

Medical Monitoring

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