The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court ruling that a Colorado county district attorney lacks standing to sue a city over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act (CW A) for discharging untreated sewage into Fountain Creek. Thiebaut v. Colo. Springs Utils., No. 10-1471 (10th Cir. 10/12/11).
The lawsuit stemmed from alleged discharges caused by pipe breaks that happened after major rainstorms and instances of vandalism. On appeal, plaintiff argued that he had standing to sue in three ways: (i) parens patriae standing, which allows states to “vindicate their interests in federal court”; (ii) associational standing, i.e., suing on behalf of the citizens of his judicial district; and (iii) a concept he called “standing for one is standing for all.” Under the latter argument, plaintiff claimed that, although he was dismissed from the lawsuit, the Sierra Club, which also sued the city, was allowed to continue, and thus, because one plaintiff had standing, the court must allow co-plaintiffs to remain in the case.
The district and appellate courts rejected plaintiff’s arguments, holding that (i) nothing in Colorado law granted plaintiff’s office the authority to represent the state’s interests in a CW A suit in federal court; (ii) state law has never granted district attorneys the authority to protect the welfare of the state’s citizens via a CW A suit in federal court; and (iii) no case law suggests that a court must permit a plaintiff without standing to remain in a case whenever it determines that a co-plaintiff has standing. So ruling, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of the city’s motion for summary judgment.