Did the Sixth Circuit have jurisdiction to decide anything?


The recent decision by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Corps of Engineers' regulation defining "waters of the United States" (WOTUS) is something of an oddity.


In court cases, the issue of jurisdiction is fundamental. Without it, a court has no authority to decide any issue in a case. When there is a question of jurisdiction, a court will typically decide that first, as a means of conserving judicial resources. There is little point to decide the subject matter of a case if the court lacks jurisdiction to actually make that decision.


The Clean Water Act confers jurisdiction of some issue directly on the Courts of Appeal. However, it is not transparently clear that the WOTUS rule falls within that jurisdiction. This explains why a North Dakota federal district court ruled on the same matter the Sixth Circuit considered.

The Sixth Circuit took the unusual step of issuing a stay in the matter before it heard argument on whether it had jurisdiction in the case. The majority of the three-judge panel appeared to feel that because there were no compelling arguments showing any harm by preventing the WOTUS rule from going into force, issuing the stay was the simplest way of preserving the status quo.

The third judge dissented over the matter of the court issuing a potentially jurisdictionally invalid decision and did not reach the merits of the arguments of the two parties to the case.

Whatever the outcome, it is likely that any decision will be appealed and it will be up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the ultimate answer to the questions presented. The Court could decline to decide the real issue, however, and send it back on some procedural issue, such as a finding that the EPA violated the timelines of the rulemaking process, which could essentially restart the entire process.

And this is why appellate cases may take years to reach a final decision.

Source: washingtonpost.com, "Sixth Circuit puts controversial 'waters of the United States' (WOTUS) rule on hold," Jonathan H. Alder, October 9, 2015

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information

Do You Need Legal Help?

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.


Privacy Policy

Firm Information

Brudvik Law Office

Mayville Office
231 9th Avenue SE
P.O. Box 547
Mayville, ND 58257

Phone: 701-786-6177
Fax: 701-788-4243
Mayville Law Office Map

West Fargo Office
730 13th Ave E
West Fargo, ND 58078

Phone: 701-786-6177
Fax: 701-788-4243
West Fargo Law Office Map

Finley Office
300 Central Avenue
Finley, ND 58230

Phone: 701-786-6177
Fax: 701-788-4243
Map & Directions

Hillsboro Office
1 N Main Street
P.O. Box 847
Hillsboro, ND 58045

Phone: 701-786-6177
Fax: 701-788-4243
Map & Directions

Grand Forks Office
2810 19th Ave S
Grand Forks, ND 58201

Phone: 701-786-6177
Fax: 701-788-4243
Map & Directions

Chandler Office
3185 S Price Rd
Suite 7
Chandler, AZ 85248

Phone: 480-374-1651
Fax: 701-788-4243
Map & Directions

Grafton Office
640 Hill Ave
Grafton, ND 58237

Phone: 701-786-6177
Fax: 701-788-4243
Map & Directions

Fargo Office
203 8th Street S.
Fargo, ND 58103

Phone: 701-786-6177
Fax: 701-788-4243
Map & Directions

East Grand Forks Office
308 Demers Ave
P.O. Box 4
East Grand Forks, MN 56721

Phone: 218-773-6841
Fax: 218-773-2845
Map & Directions