COE Jurisdictional Determination Subject to Court Review.

The plaintiff, a peat moss mining company, sought the approval of the Corps of Engineer (COE) to harvest a swamp (wetland) for peat moss to use in landscaping projects.  The COE issued a jurisdictional determination that the swamp was a wetland subject to the permit requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The plaintiff sought to challenge the COE determination, but the trial court, in a highly disingenuous opinion in light of the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, 132 S. Ct. 1367 (2012), ruled for the COE, holding that the plaintiff had three options:  (1) abandon the project; (2) seek a federal permit costing over $270,000; or (3) proceed with the project and risk fines of up to $75,000 daily and/or criminal sanctions including imprisonment.  On appeal, the court unanimously reversed, strongly criticizing the trial court's opinion.  Based on Sackett, the court held that COE Jurisdictional Determinations constitute final agency actions that are immediately appealable in court.  The court noted that to hold elsewise would allow the COE to effectively kill the project without any determination of whether it's position as to jurisdiction over the wetland at issue was correct in light of Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (U.S. 2006).  The court noted that the COE had deliberately left vague the "definitions used to make jurisdictional determinations" so as to expand its regulatory reach.  While the COE claimed that the jurisdictional determination was merely advisory and that the plaintiff had adequate ways to contest the determination, the court determined that such alternatives were cost prohibitive and futile.  The court stated that the COE's assertion that the jurisdictional determination (and the trial court's opinion) was merely advisory ignored reality and had a powerful coercive effect.  The court held that the Fifth Circuit, which reached the opposition conclusion with respect to a COE Jurisdictional Determination in Belle Co., LLC v. United States Army Corps. of Engineers, 761 F.3d 383 (5th cir. 2014), cert. den., 83 U.S.L.W. 3291 (U.S. Mar. 23, 2015), misapplied the Supreme Court's decision in SackettHawkes Co., Inc., et al. v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, No. 13-3067, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5810 (8th Cir. Apr. 10, 2015), rev'g., 963 F. Supp. 2d 868 (D. Minn. 2013).  In a later decision, the court denied a petition to rehear the case en banc and by the panel.  Hawkes Co., Inc., et al. v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, No. 13-3067, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 11697 (8th Cir. Jul. 7, 2015).