Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation
October 2, 2007
Contacts: Rhonda Huff, Vice President, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation
(231) 734 3886
James Olson, Olson, Bzdok & Howard, Traverse City,
Attorney for Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation
(231) 499 8831; (231) 946 0044
Four -Justice Majority Refuses to Reverse Its Earlier Ruling that Trounced on A Person’s Right to Bring a Lawsuit to Protect the Environment. Supreme Court Cripples Acclaimed State Environmental Protection Law.
Traverse City, Michigan. Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (“MCWC”), the citizen group who won a major court victory that limited groundwater pumping by Nestlé because of harm to a stream, two lakes, and wetlands, received a 4 to 3 ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court on Monday, October 1, 2007. By a narrow margin, four justices rejected the citizen group’s bid to persuade one of them to reverse a ruling on part of the suit in July of this year that trampled the right of MCWC, nearby affected property owners, and citizens to bring a lawsuit under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act to prevent harm to the wetlands and lake located on Nestle’s property. While the ruling received this week does not affect MCWC’s monumental victory under Michgian water law and the MEPA as to the stream and adjacent wetlands, it cripples the rights of citizens to file suits under the MEPA to protect the state’s environment in the future.
Three of the justices would have granted reconsideration of the earlier ruling, and reinstated the right to sue to prevent harm to the environment on a defendant’s property. In a broad but tightly drawn dissent, Justice Elizabeth Weaver would have demanded the Court to look at whether the four-justice majority ruling denied MCWC and its members the right to petition the government to redress wrongs in violation of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. constitution.
“MCWC asked the Court to rehear its earlier decision, because it couldn’t believe the Court really meant to trample on the rights of citizens granted to us by our constitution and the Michigan Environmental Protection Act to protect the lake and wetlands harmed by Nestle’s pumping of water,” Terry Swier, President of MCWC said.
“It still makes no sense to us. The Court says we have standing to prevent the damage to the stream, two lakes, and wetlands on and off Nestle’s property, all within the affected area of Nestle’s pumping. During the trial and as affirmed by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, we proved that damage would and has occurred. Now, after thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars, the Court says we don’t have legal standing or the right to remedy the damage to the lake and wetlands located on Nestle’s property,” Rhonda Huff, Vice President of MCWC said.
“For Michigan citizens, it means one more nail in the coffin of their right to protect themselves, their community, and environment from the harm caused by large special interests,” James Olson, MCWC’s attorney said. “What the people, through our constitution and legislature, have lawfully granted, a four-justice slim majority has taken away.”
The Court’s blow to the rights of citizens to bring suits, granted in 1970 by the Legislature to protect the state’s environment, has met with outcry on the editorial pages of most newspapers. The decision is the last ink in a line of decisions by the same four-justices majority during the past 3 or 4 years that curtail the rights of people to bring suits for personal injury, class actions, and the environment in a wide-range of circumstances, even though the law grants the right of people to redress wrongs that protect their person, property, or environment, without regard to the severity or pervasiveness of the wrong or damage.
“The Court has spoken until the people and legislature stand up to be counted.,” Olson said.
Former Governor Milliken and others who, along with citizens and a bipartisan Legislature, spearheaded the landmark environmental citizens’ suit law in 1970, condemned the Court’s decision in various news articles.
George Weeks, a well-respected political columnist, in an Op Ed, July 29th, described the Michigan Environmental Protection Act as “crippled” by the “the Michigan Supreme Court, dubbed by Weeks as the “Engler Four – justices elevated to that bench or the Court of Appeals by ex-Gov John Engler.”
In her dissent, Justice Weaver wrote, “I would ... reverse the holding of the majority of four that plaintiffs do not have standing to bring a claim under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.” She also wrote that she would also consider “whether the majority of four’s holding violated plaintiffs’ right to ‘petition the Government for a redress of grievances,’ a right guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.” She observed that the importance of the issue “stems ... from various other holdings by the same majority denying citizens protection of the laws and access” to Michigan courts.
“This puts a period on a chapter, but this is far from over,” Swier said “There’s plenty to do back in the circuit court to make sure Nestle’s constant pumping doesn’t harm our state’s stream, lakes, and wetlands. There’s plenty for MCWC, the legislature, and all citizens to do to stop Nestlé and other special interests from taking over control of the public’s water, including the Great Lakes.”