In a precedent-setting victory for the rights of all property owners, the United States Supreme Court held that landowners have a right to direct, meaningful judicial review if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effectively seizes control of their property by declaring it to be “wetlands.”

(For more on the Sackett case, see here)

(For AFBF's reaction to the Sackett decision, see here)

The Court ruled in favor of Mike and Chantell Sackett, of Priest Lake, Idaho, who were told by EPA — and by the Ninth Circuit — that they could not get direct court review of EPA’s claim that their two-thirds of an acre parcel is “wetlands” and that they must obey a detailed and intrusive EPA “compliance” order, or be hit with fines of up to $75,000 per day.

In their challenge to EPA’s takeover of their land, the Sacketts are represented, free of charge, by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation, the leading legal watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental protection, in courts nationwide. The case is Sackett v. EPA.

PLF Principal Attorney Damien M. Schiff argued the Sacketts’ case at the Supreme Court on January 9.  Schiff issued this statement today, after the Court’s ruling in favor of the Sacketts was announced:

“EPA is not above the law,” said Schiff.  “That’s the bottom line with today’s ruling.  This is a great day for Mike and Chantell Sackett, because it confirms that EPA can’t deny them access to justice.  EPA can’t repeal the Sacketts’ fundamental right to their day in court.  And for that reason, it is a great day for all Americans, for all property owners, and for the rule of law.  The justices have made it clear that EPA bureaucrats are answerable to the law and the courts just like the rest of us.  EPA can’t try to micromanage people and their property — it can’t order property owners to dance like marionettes — while denying them any meaningful right to appeal to the courts.  It can’t threaten property owners with financial ruin and not have to justify its threats to a judge.  And it can’t issue lazy, drive-by ‘wetlands’ edicts about private property.  It will have to put in some honest work and use credible science, because the regulators must be able to justify their wetlands orders in a court of law.

“Rest assured, while today’s ruling strengthens everyone’s individual rights and property rights, and everyone’s access to justice, it does not weaken legitimate environmental protection one iota,” Schiff continued.  “Regulators will simply have to be professional and thorough, not careless and slipshod, when they issue wetlands orders.  In the case of urgent pollution threats, EPA will still have the power, as it does now, to seek an immediate court injunction.  But when there is no emergency, EPA can’t start ordering property owners around — and threatening them with tens of millions of dollars in fines, as with the Sacketts — without first doing some genuine due diligence.  EPA will have to be prepared to show a reviewing court that its wetlands regulations are really necessary — not just a power trip.”

(For more on the Sackett case, see here)