e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 24050
Opinion Date : 07/30/2004
e-Journal Date : 08/03/2004
Court : Michigan Supreme Court
Case Name : National Wildlife Fed’n v. Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co.
Practice Area(s) : Environmental Law, Constitutional Law
Judge(s) : Markman, Corrigan, Taylor, and Young, Jr.; Concurring in result only – Weaver; Concurring in the result – Cavanagh; Concurring in result only – Kelly and Cavanagh
Full Text Opinion

Standing to bring suit under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) (MCL 324.1701 et seq.); Lee v. Macomb County Bd. of Comm’rs; Separation of powers; The “judicial power”; Requirement of a genuine case or controversy; A "particularized" injury; Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs.; Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife; Const.1963, art. 4, § 52


Adhering to the holding in Lee that questions of standing implicate the constitutional separation of powers, the court ruled under the particular circumstances of the case, plaintiffs-nonprofit groups had standing to bring a suit on behalf of their members under the MEPA. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief on behalf of their members. They provided affidavits from members who lived near the mine, where defendants sought to expand their operations, in which the members alleged they bird-watched, canoed, bicycled, hiked, skied, fished, and farmed in the area, planned to continue to do so as long as the area remained unspoiled, and were “concerned” the mine expansion would irreparably harm their recreational and aesthetic enjoyment of the area. One member also alleged in his affidavit his well, on property adjacent to the mine, was nearly dry and he had to construct a new, deeper well due to the local aquifer dropping too low, which he alleged was due to the mining activities. These affidavits were nearly identical to those deemed adequate in Laidlaw, and the court concluded they sufficiently met the test for standing set forth in Lee. However, the court noted plaintiffs could not rely on these affidavits throughout the proceedings to prove standing exists. Subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time. Since the court held plaintiffs had standing without regard to MCL 324.1701(1), it did not reach the constitutionality of the statute. The decision of the Court of Appeals was affirmed and the case remanded to the trial court.

Justice Weaver, concurring only in the majority’s result, would hold plaintiffs have standing under MCL 324.1701(1) to bring an action to enjoin mining activities they alleged would irreparably harm natural resources, and dissented from the majority’s analysis of “standing” and “judicial power” on the ground it ignored the will of the people in Michigan as expressed in art. 4, § 52. MEPA and its citizen-suit provision properly implement this constitutional directive. The “any person” standard clearly expressed by the Legislature, not the more restrictive judge-made standing test of Lee, should be applied.

Justice Cavanagh, concurring in the result reached by the majority and Justice Weaver, wrote separately to acknowledge a change in position since the court decided Lee, in which he signed Justice Kelly’s dissent agreeing with the adoption of Lujan as the test for standing in Michigan. Justice Cavanagh disavowed that position for the reasons expressed in Justice Weaver’s opinion in Lee and in her concurrence in this case, concluding Lujan should not be used to determine standing in Michigan.

Justice Kelly agreed with the opinion of Justice Weaver and the result reached by the majority, stating she believed Lee should not be applied in cases like this one and since the court’s determination on standing rendered the discourse on separation of powers unnecessary, this discourse was simply dicta. However, if a decision was required about whether absent a showing of a particularized injury, MEPA’s standing provision violated the separation of powers, she would hold it does not.

Full Text Opinion