Water Quality Violations and An Illegal Discharge Merits Only One Penalty.

The plaintiff operates a chicken processing facility.  Upon receiving an anonymous complaint, the defendant inspected a nearby creek and discovered sludge that appeared "visually similar" to the plaintiff's wastewater lagoon.  Without any direct or physical evidence, the defendant assessed a $75,000 penalty against the plaintiff.  The $75,000 penalty was comprised of a $25,000 penalty for violating a state (NC) statute barring discharges into state waters that violate state water quality standards, and $50,000 in penalties for two separate violations of state water quality standards (dissolved oxygen standard and settleable solids and sludge standards).  An administrative law judge (ALJ) viewed the $50,000 in penalties as improper.  The Environmental Management Commission upheld the $25,000 penalty for the discharge violation and one $25,000 penalty for the other violations.  On further review, the trial court affirmed the ALJ's decision.  On appeal, the court affirmed.  The appellate court held that a violation of water quality standards could not occur without a discharge violation.  Thus, the plaintiff had impermissibly been penalized multiple times for the same violation.  House of Raeford Farms, Inc. v. North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, No. COA15-47, 2015 N.C. App. LEXIS 631 (N.C. Ct. App. Jul. 21, 2015).