Published January 09, 2012
WASHINGTON – Since 2007, Mike and Chantell Sackett have been fighting to build their dream home on the Idaho lot they bought years ago. The Sacketts say they had gotten local permits and spent thousands prepping the land for construction - then the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed up.
The EPA told the Sacketts their property contained wetlands and issued a compliance order mandating that they return it to its original state or risk facing fines starting at $37,500 per day.
The Sacketts say they were stunned, and asked the EPA for a hearing on the matter. The agency denied their request, so the Sacketts decided to file a lawsuit. The EPA has argued that the agency is equipped to handle complaints like the Sacketts through administrative procedures, and that landowners have no constitutional right to proceed from a compliance order directly into federal court.
Mike Sackett, who terms the battle "David versus Goliath," said at the Supreme Court Monday, "Property owners have their right to their day in court, and the EPA has to be subject to the rule of law."
He says the couple's lot sits in a residential neighborhood with sewer lines and homes built all around. The EPA maintains that experts have found wetlands on the lot.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, writing a brief in support of the EPA, said that the Sacketts "should not be rewarded for failing to utilize the multiple administrative processes that they could (and should) have followed to achieve a resolution of their concerns."
In Monday's hearing, Justice Elena Kagan questioned why the Sacketts didn't simply file for a wetlands permit. "Couldn't you have gotten the legal determination that you wanted through that process?" Attorneys for the Sacketts say the process would be exceptionally costly and time-consuming, especially when they maintain that there is no need for such a permit because their lot doesn't contain wetlands.
A number of the Justices seemed empathetic to the Sacketts' argument that, without the ability to sue in federal court, they'd essentially be left with no real way to challenge the EPA's order or threatened fines.
A decision is expected by June.