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CALIFORNIA ET AL. v. SIERRA CLUB ET AL.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided*fn*: April 28, 1981.

CALIFORNIA ET AL
v.
SIERRA CLUB ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, and Stevens, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 298. Rehnquist, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Burger, C. J., and Stewart and Powell, JJ., joined, post, p. 301.

Author: White

[ 451 U.S. Page 289]

 JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under review here is a decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holding that private parties may sue under the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 to enforce § 10 of that Act. An environmental organization and two private citizens (hereafter respondents)*fn1 seek to enjoin the construction and operation of water diversion facilities which are part of the California Water Project (CWP). They rely upon § 10 of the Act, which prohibits "[the] creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by Congress, to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the United States . . . ."*fn2 Since the Act does not explicitly create a private

[ 451 U.S. Page 290]

     enforcement mechanism, the initial question presented by these consolidated cases is whether such a private right of action can be implied on behalf of those allegedly injured by a claimed violation of § 10. Petitioner State of California also asks us to decide whether the Act requires permits for the state water allocation projects involved in these cases.

I

The California Water Project consists of a series of water storage and transportation facilities designed primarily to transport water from the relatively moist climate of northern California to the more arid central and southern portions of the State. The water which will be used by the CWP is initially stored behind dams on the Sacramento River and, as needed, released into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The CWP then diverts a quantity of this water from the Delta and directs it into canals and aqueducts which will carry it south. The project has both federal and state components. The federal component, the Central Valley Project, is designed in part to provide a constant source of water for irrigation to the Central Valley of California. Water for this project is diverted from the Delta by the Tracy Pumping Plant into the 115-mile Delta-Mendota Canal which transports the water to the Mendota Pool in California's Central Valley. The State Water Project supplies water to both central and southern California by way of the California Aqueduct. Water for this project is drawn from the Delta by the Delta Pumping Plant and deposited in the

[ 451 U.S. Page 291]

     northern terminus of the California Aqueduct, through which it flows to its destinations in central and southern California.

Under the present system the quality of water captured in the north and released into the Delta may be degraded by intruding salt waters from the Pacific Ocean. As a consequence the water which is diverted from the Delta to the Delta-Mendota Canal or the California Aqueduct is potentially of a lesser quality than is the water which is transported to the Delta from storage facilities in the north and from there deposited in the Delta. The State of California has proposed the construction of a 42-mile Peripheral Canal along the eastern edge of the Delta area, which would avoid any mixing of the water from the north with the saline water of the Delta. Instead of depositing water in the Delta, the canal would carry high quality water directly to the Tracy and Delta Pumping Plants.

Respondents commenced the present action in 1971 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Sierra Club v. Morton, 400 F.Supp. 610 (1975). Named as defendants were the various federal and state officials who administer the agencies responsible for overseeing the operation, construction, and regulation of the CWP facilities in question.*fn3 Petitioner water agencies, which had contracted with the State for water from the Delta and which had incurred extensive financial obligations in reliance thereon, were permitted to intervene.*fn4 The respondents alleged that present

[ 451 U.S. Page 292]

     and proposed diversions of water from the Delta degraded the quality of Delta water, and that such diversion violated § 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899. They sought to enjoin further operation or construction of water diversion facilities until the consent of the Army Corps of Engineers was obtained as required by the Act.

The District Court concluded that respondents could avail themselves of a "private cause of action" to enforce § 10 of the Act, and ruled on the merits that approval of the Corps of Engineers was required by § 10 for the Tracy and Delta Pumping Plants and the Peripheral Canal. Sierra Club v. Morton, supra. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed that a private cause of action to enforce the Act existed. Sierra Club v. Andrus, 610 F.2d 581 (1979). It reversed the District Court as to the Tracy Pumping Plant, however, ruling that Congress has consented to its construction and operation.*fn5 We granted petitions for certiorari filed by the water agencies and the State of California. 449 U.S. 818 (1980).

II

Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 (1975), outlined a "preferred approach for determining whether a private right of action should be implied from a federal statute . . . ." Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S. 11, 26 (1979) (WHITE, J., dissenting); see Cannon v. University of Chicago,

[ 451 U.S. Page 293441]

     U.S. 677 (1979). This approach listed four factors thought to be relevant to the inquiry:

"First, is the plaintiff 'one of the class for whose especial benefit the statute was enacted,' . . . -- that is, does the statute create a federal right in favor of the plaintiff? Second, is there any indication of legislative intent, explicit or implicit, either to create such a remedy or to deny one? . . . Third, is it consistent with the underlying purposes of the legislative scheme to imply such a remedy for the plaintiff? . . . And finally, is the cause of action one traditionally relegated to state law, in an area basically the concern of the States, so that it would be inappropriate to infer a cause of action based solely on federal law?" 422 U.S., at 78.

Combined, these four factors present the relevant inquiries to pursue in answering the recurring question of implied causes of action. Cases subsequent to Cort have explained that the ultimate issue is whether Congress intended to create a private right of action, see Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754, 771-772 (1981); Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, supra, at 23-24; Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, 442 U.S. 560, 568, 575-576 (1979); but the four factors specified in Cort remain the "criteria through which this intent could be discerned." Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228, 241 (1979); Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, supra, at 27 (WHITE, J., dissenting).

Under Cort, the initial consideration is whether the plaintiff is a member of a class for "'whose especial benefit the statute was enacted.'" Cort v. Ash, supra, at 78, 80-82; see Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, supra, at 569-570; Cannon v. University of Chicago, supra, at 689-694. Without analyzing either the language or legislative history of the Act, the Court of Appeals here concluded that the Act was designed for the especial benefit of private parties who may suffer "special injury" caused by an unauthorized obstruction

[ 451 U.S. Page 294]

     to a navigable waterway. It was apparently reasoned that since Congress enacted a statute that forbids such obstructions in navigable waters, any person who would be "especially harmed" by an unauthorized obstruction was an especial beneficiary of the Act. But such a definition of "especial" beneficiary makes this factor meaningless. Under this view, a victim of any crime would be deemed an especial beneficiary of the criminal statute's proscription. Cort did not adopt such a broad-gauge approach. Cort v. Ash, supra, at 80-82. The question is not simply who would benefit from the Act, but whether Congress intended to confer federal rights upon those beneficiaries. See Cannon, supra, at 690-693, n. 13.

In ascertaining this intent, the first consideration is the language of the Act. Here, the statute states no more than a general proscription of certain activities; it does not unmistakably focus on any particular class of beneficiaries whose welfare Congress intended to further. Such language does not indicate an intent to provide for private rights of action. "There would be far less reason to infer a private remedy in favor of individual persons if Congress, instead of drafting Title IX [of the Education Amendments of 1972] with an unmistakable focus on the benefited class, had written it simply as a ban on discriminatory conduct by recipients of federal funds or as a prohibition against the disbursement of public funds to educational institutions engaged in discriminatory practices." Cannon v. University of Chicago, supra, at 690-693; see also Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, supra, at 569; Cort v. Ash, supra, at 80-82. Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act is the kind of general ban which carries with it no implication of an intent to confer rights on a particular class of persons.

Neither the Court of Appeals nor respondents have identified anything in the legislative history suggesting that § 10 was created for the especial benefit of a particular class. On the contrary, the legislative history supports the view that

[ 451 U.S. Page 295]

     the Act was designed to benefit the public at large by empowering the Federal Government to exercise its authority over interstate commerce with respect to obstructions on navigable rivers caused by bridges and similar structures. In part, the Act was passed in response to this Court's decision in Willamette Iron Bridge Co. v. Hatch, 125 U.S. 1 (1888). There the Court held that there was no federal common law "which prohibits obstructions and nuisances in navigable rivers." Id., at 8. Although Willamette involved private parties, the clear implication of the Court's opinion was that in the absence of specific legislation no party, including the Federal Government, would be empowered to take any action under federal law with respect to such obstructions. The Act was intended to enable the Secretary of War to take such action.*fn6 See 21 Cong. Rec. 8603, 8605, and 8607 (1890); see also United States v. Pennsylvania Industrial Chemical Corp., 411 U.S. 655, 663-664 (1973); United States v. Standard Oil Co., 384 U.S. 224, 227-229 (1966); United States v. Republic Steel Corp., 362 U.S. 482, 485-488, 499-500 (1960). Congress was not concerned with the rights of individuals.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there is no "indication of legislative intent, explicit or implicit, either to create such a remedy or to deny one." Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S., at 78, 82-84;

[ 451 U.S. Page 296]

     As recently emphasized, the focus of the inquiry is on whether Congress intended to create a remedy. Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S., at 771-772; Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S., at 23-24; Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, supra, at 575-576. The federal judiciary will not engraft a remedy on a statute, no matter how salutary, that Congress did not intend to provide. Here consideration of the first two Cort factors is dispositive. The language of the statute and its legislative history do not suggest that the Act was intended to create federal rights for the

[ 451 U.S. Page 298]

     especial benefit of a class of persons but rather that it was intended to benefit the public at large through a general regulatory scheme to be administered by the then Secretary of War. Nor is there any evidence that Congress anticipated that there would be a private remedy. This being the case, it is unnecessary to inquire further to determine whether the purpose of the statute would be advanced by the judicial implication of a private action or whether such a remedy is within the federal domain of interest. These factors are only of relevance if the first two factors give indication of congressional intent to create the remedy. Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, supra, at 574-576. There being no such indication, the judgment of the Court of Appeals must be reversed.

III

Petitioner the State of California urges that we reach the merits of these cases -- whether permits are required for the state water allocation projects -- regardless of our disposition of the private-cause-of-action issue. This we decline to do. Our ruling that there is no private cause of action permitting respondents to commence this action disposes of the cases: we cannot consider the merits of a claim which Congress has not authorized respondents to raise.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is accordingly reversed, and the cases are remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Disposition

610 F.2d 581, reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE STEVENS, concurring.

In 1888 this Court reversed a decree enjoining the construction of a bridge over a navigable river. Willamette Iron Bridge Co. v. Hatch, 125 U.S. 1. The Court's opinion in that case did not question the right of the private parties to seek relief in a federal court; rather, the Court held that no federal rule of law prohibited the obstruction of the navigable waterway.*fn1

[ 451 U.S. Page 299]

     Congress responded to the Willamette case in the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1890 by creating a federal prohibition of such obstructions absent a permit from the Secretary of War. 26 Stat. 426, 454. At the time the statute was enacted, I believe the lawyers in Congress simply assumed that private parties in a position comparable to that of the litigants in the Willamette case would have a remedy for any injury suffered by reason of a violation of the new federal statute.*fn2 For at that time the implication of private causes

[ 451 U.S. Page 300]

     of action was a well-known practice at common law and in American courts.*fn3 Therefore, in my view, the Members of Congress merely assumed that the federal courts would follow the ancient maxim "ubi jus, ibi remedium" and imply a private right of action. See Texas & Pacific R. Co. v. Rigsby, 241 U.S. 33, 39-40.*fn4 Accordingly, if I were writing on a clean slate, I would hold that an implied remedy is available to respondents under this statute.

[ 451 U.S. Page 301]

     The slate, however, is not clean. Because the problem of ascertaining legislative intent that is not expressed in legislation is often so difficult, the Court has wisely developed rules to guide judges in deciding whether a federal remedy is implicitly a part of a federal statute. In Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66, all of my present colleagues subscribed to a unanimous formulation of those rules, and in Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, a majority of the Court joined my attempt to explain the application of those rules in that case. The Cort v. Ash analysis is therefore a part of our law.*fn5

In these cases, I believe the Court correctly concludes that application of the Cort v. Ash analysis indicates that no private cause of action is available. I think it is more important to adhere to the analytical approach the Court has adopted than to base my vote on my own opinion about what Congress probably assumed in 1890. Cf. Florida Dept. of Health & Rehabilitative Services v. Florida Nursing Home Assn., 450 U.S. 147, 151 (STEVENS, J., concurring). I therefore join JUSTICE WHITE'S opinion for the Court.

JUSTICE REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE STEWART, and JUSTICE POWELL join, concurring in the judgment.

I agree completely with the conclusion of the Court that in these cases "Congress was not concerned with the rights of individuals" and that "[it] is not surprising, therefore, that there is no 'indication of legislative intent, explicit or implicit, either to create . . . a [private] remedy or to deny one.'" Ante, at 295.

[ 451 U.S. Page 302]

     I also agree with the Court's analysis, ante, at 297, where it says:

"As recently emphasized, the focus of the inquiry is on whether Congress intended to create a remedy. Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S., at 771-772; Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S., at 23-24; Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, [442 U.S.], at 575-576. The federal judiciary will not engraft a remedy on a statute, no matter how salutary, that Congress did not intend to provide."

My only difference, and the difference which leads me to write this separate concurrence in the judgment, is that I think the Court's opinion places somewhat more emphasis on Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 (1975), than is warranted in light of several more recent "implied right of action" decisions which limit it. These decisions make clear that the so-called Cort factors are merely guides in the central task of ascertaining legislative intent, see Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S. 11, 15 (1979); Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, 442 U.S. 560, 575-576 (1979); Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 739-740 (1979) (POWELL, J., dissenting), that they are not of equal weight, Transamerica, supra, at 15, 23-24; Touche Ross, supra, at 575-576; and that in deciding an implied-right-of-action case courts need not mechanically trudge through all four of the factors when the dispositive question of legislative intent has been resolved, Transamerica, supra, at 24; Touche Ross, supra, at 575-576; Kissinger v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 445 U.S. 136, 148-149 (1980). Surely it cannot be seriously argued that a mechanical application of the Cort analysis lends "predictability" to implied-right-of-action jurisprudence: including today's decision, five of the last six statutory implied-right-of-action cases in which we have reviewed analysis by the Courts of Appeals after Cort have resulted in reversal of erroneous Court of Appeals decisions.

[ 451 U.S. Page 303]

     See Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754 (1981); Transamerica, supra; Touche Ross, supra; Cannon, supra. Cf. Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Transport Workers, ante, p. 77. While this may be predictability of a sort, it is not the sort which the Court in Cort v. Ash, supra, or in any other case seeking to afford guidance to statutory construction intended.

But in these cases, I am happy to agree with the Court that there is no implied right of action because "[the] language of the statute and its legislative history do not suggest that the Act was intended to create federal rights for the especial benefit of a class of persons," ante, at 297-298, and because there is no "evidence that Congress anticipated that there would be a private remedy." Ante, at 298.


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