The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a U.S. district court may not abdicate its continuing jurisdiction over a consent decree before the agreement is completed. U.S. v. Cargill, Inc., No. 10-2732 (8th Cir. 6/13/11) (unpublished). Reversing and remanding the district court decision, which purported to limit the court’s jurisdiction to December 31, 2009—more than seven years before the terms of the consent decree could be completed—the appeals court held that the injunctive quality of consent decrees compels the district court to retain jurisdiction over such decrees during the time of their existence. The appeals court ruled that the district court “clearly erred” when it attempted to limit its jurisdiction over the consent decree.
At issue was a March 3, 2006, consent decree between the U.S. government and defendant to resolve charges involving alleged Clean Air Act violations. The decree required defendant to install pollution-control equipment at 24 of its plants in 13 states under a timetable spelled out in the agreement and approved by the district court. In 2010, when defendant filed a motion to enter an unopposed consent-decree modification, the court denied the motion citing its limited jurisdiction.