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U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Cases That Will Impact Construction

11/15/2012 | Construction Blog

The United States Supreme Court has announced its docket for next session. Several cases that will impact the construction industry in Pennsylvania in some way appear on the list. Because the Supreme Court is not required to accept a case from the lower courts, its decision to do so likely means the issue is an important one that could have far reaching consequences.

Each of the cases the Court will hear deals with water. In two, issues surrounding the Clean Water Act will be considered. In the other matter, the court will analyze the reach of the federal takings clause (eminent domain).

The first of these cases on the list is Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. U.S. The underlying facts relate to water releases by the Army Corps of Engineers from a dam that caused flooding in areas controlled by the Commission. According to the Commission, this made the land unusable for long periods of time and also caused damage to the environment. The issues is whether this temporary inability to use the land constitutes a taking by the federal government that would require compensation under the federal constitution. After the trial court pronounced it a taking and awarded the Commission $5.8 million, appeals resulted and the case has made its way to the Supreme Court.

The Clean Water Act cases both arrive to the Court from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California. In a case that could heavily impact construction companies working in the oil & gas industry in Pennsylvania, the Court will consider whether runoff from forest roads requires a Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit. Such permits are designed to prevent improper run-off into forests from constructed roads. The second Clean Water Act case considers whether the act is violated in any way when water is channeled out of a river into a concrete channel and then back into the river.

The U.S. Supreme Court hears cases involving the federal constitution and federal law, so it is rare for it to issue decisions that impact the construction industry so directly. When the U.S. Supreme Court speaks, however, what they say becomes the law of the land. As a result, these are decision worth noting.