e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 36632
Opinion Date : 07/25/2007
e-Journal Date : 07/26/2007
Court : Michigan Supreme Court
Case Name : Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation v. Nestlé Waters N. Am. Inc.
Practice Area(s) : Environmental Law, Litigation
Judge(s) : Young, Jr., Taylor, Corrigan, and Markman; Dissent – Weaver; Dissenting Separately – Cavanagh; Also Dissenting Separately – Kelly
Full Text Opinion
Issues:

Whether plaintiffs had standing to bring a claim under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) (MCL 324.1701 et seq.) as the claim relates to certain streams, lakes, and wetlands in Mecosta County; National Wildlife Fed’n v. Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co.; Lee v. Macomb County Bd. of Comm’rs; Michigan Chiropractic Council v. Commissioner of the Office of Fin. & Ins. Servs.; Trout Unlimited, Muskegon White River Chapter v. White Cloud; The “interconnectedness” theory of standing; Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs.(TOC); Rohde v. Ann Arbor Pub. Sch.

Summary

The court limited its opinion to the issue of standing and held plaintiffs had standing to bring a MEPA claim against defendant-Nestlé to protect their riparian property rights to Thompson Lake and the Dead Stream. However, they failed to demonstrate they used the Osprey Lake Impoundment (Osprey Lake) and Wetlands 112, 115, and 301, and as a result, their recreational, aesthetic, or other interests have been impaired. Thus, pursuant to MCR 7.302(G)(1), in lieu of granting leave to appeal, the court affirmed the Court of Appeals in part, but reversed the Court of Appeals holding the plaintiffs have standing to bring a MEPA claim regarding Osprey Lake and Wetlands 112, 115, and 301, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with the court’s opinion. Armed with the required permits allowing defendant to operate 4 wells at a combined maximum water pumping rate of 400 gallons per minute, defendant began pumping “spring water” in 2002. The court refined the plaintiffs’ MEPA claim and held they had standing related to whether defendant’s pumping activities inflicted an injury in fact with respect to the Dead Stream and Thompson Lake, but did not establish standing with respect to Osprey Lake and Wetlands 112, 115, and 301. The court rejected the Court of Appeals “interconnectedness” theory of standing as inconsistent with Lee and National Wildlife. The court affirmed the Court of Appeals in part, but reversed the Court of Appeals holding regarding the issue of whether plaintiffs had standing with regard to Osprey Lake Impoundment and the specific wetlands where they did not establish a concrete interest in them, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

In her dissent, Justice Weaver would hold plaintiffs had standing under MCL 324.1701(1) to bring an action to enjoin water pumping and bottling production activities the plaintiffs alleged would irreparably harm natural resources and would affirm the Court of Appeals decision plaintiffs have standing with respect to all the affected properties at issue.

Justice Cavanagh concurred fully with Justice Weaver’s dissent because he also believed the majority’s systematic dismantling of the court’s standing principles was seriously misguided. He would find plaintiffs had standing because the evidence they presented soundly demonstrated the conduct of defendant is perpetrating detrimental environmental effects on the ecosystem about which plaintiffs’ complaint was concerned.

While Justice Kelly agreed with Justice Weaver’s conclusion and her analysis, she recognized Lee and Cleveland Cliffs now constitute binding precedent, and because she would hold plaintiffs have established standing under those cases, she would find it unnecessary to consider whether these cases should be overruled. The justice opined the majority opinion allowed defendant to use the standing doctrine as a sword to insulate its questionable activity from legal challenge and dissented from the “erroneous” decision.

Full Text Opinion