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Duarte Nursery Inc. v. United States Army Corps of Engineers

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 22, 2017

DUARTE NURSERY, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, et. al, Defendants.

          ORDER

         On May 10, 2017, this court found Duarte violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) by discharging pollutants into “waters of the United States” without a permit or statutory exemption. Order at 24-32, ECF No. 195. Finding the CWA to be a strict liability statute, the court concluded a bench trial was needed to determine the issue of injunctive relief and civil penalties. ECF No. 268; see also 33 U.S.C. § 1319(b) (providing for injunctive relief), 33 U.S.C. § 1319(d) (providing for civil penalties).

         This case is now before the court on plaintiffs Duarte Nursery, Inc.'s and John Duarte's (collectively “Duarte”) motion to stay proceedings. Mot., ECF No. 269. Defendant United States opposes. Opp'n, ECF No. 272. At hearing on Duarte's motion, Anthony Francois appeared for Duarte, and Gregory Broderick and John Do appeared for the United States, ECF No. 275. For reasons explained below, Duarte's motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Duarte filed the operative second amended complaint on September 3, 2015. ECF No. 90. The complaint alleges the Army Corps violated Duarte's Fifth Amendment right to due process and First Amendment right against retaliatory prosecution. See generally id. The United States' counterclaim alleges violation of § 301(a) of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a). ECF No. 28 at 16. In support of its counterclaim, the United States alleges Duarte discharged pollutants into “waters of the United States” without authorization. Id. The United States requests injunctive relief and civil penalties. Id. at 28.

         On June 10, 2016, this court granted the United States' motion for summary judgment, concluding that, under Justice Kennedy's “significant nexus” test articulated in his concurrence in Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715, 767 (2006), Duarte violated the CWA and should be held liable. Order at 27, 29-31, 35. The question now remaining before the court is the scope of injunctive relief and the amount of civil penalties. See Id. at 24 (concluding the CWA is a “strict liability” statute (citing Waterkeepers N. Cal. v. Ag. Indus. Mfg., Inc., No. 00- 1967, 2005 WL 2001037, at *13 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 19, 2005)). A bench trial on remedies is being set for August 2017.

         On April 18, 2017, Duarte filed a motion to stay this case pending the resolution of a case currently before the Ninth Circuit, United States v. Robertson, No. 16-30178 (9th Cir. filed Aug. 1, 2016). Mot. Duarte anticipates Robertson will decide whether a prior Ninth Circuit case, United States v. Davis, 825 F.3d 1014, 1020 (9th Cir. 2016), had the effect of overturning N. Cal. River Watch v. City of Healdsburg, 496 F.3d 993, 999 (9th Cir. 2007), which held that Justice Kennedy's concurrence in the case of Rapanos, 547 U.S. at 767, provides the test for determining CWA jurisdiction. The United States opposes a stay. Opp'n. Duarte replied. Reply, ECF No. 273.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standards

         A district court has inherent power to control the disposition of the cases on its docket in a manner to promote economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel and for litigants. CMAX, Inc. v. Hall, 300 F.2d 265, 268 (9th Cir. 1962). The trial court may, “with propriety, find it is efficient for its own docket and the fairest course for the parties to enter a stay of an action before it, pending resolution of independent proceedings that bear upon the case.” Leyva v. Certified Grocers of Cal., Ltd., 593 F.2d 857, 863-64 (9th Cir. 1979). This rule applies whether the separate proceedings are “judicial, administrative or arbitral in character, and does not require that the issues in such proceedings necessarily control of the action before the court.” Id.

         The court's inherent power is discretionary. CMAX, 300 F.2d at 268. In determining whether a stay is warranted, the court must weigh the competing interests resulting from granting or declining a motion to stay. Id. Among the competing interests are (1) the possible damage that may result from the granting of a stay, (2) the hardship or inequity a party may suffer in being required to go forward, and (3) the orderly course of justice measured in terms of the simplifying or complicating issues, proof, and questions of law expected to result from a stay. Id. at 268; Lockyer v. Mirant Corp., 398 F.3d 1098, 1110 (9th Cir. 2005). Finally, “[t]he party requesting a stay bears the burden of showing that the circumstances justify an exercise of that discretion.” Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 433-34 (2009) (citing Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 708 (1997); Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 255 (1936)). The court weighs the competing interests in this case below.

         B. Analysis

         First, the court must balance the “possible damage which may result from the granting of a stay, ” with “the hardship or inequity which may [result] in being required to go forward.” CMAX, 300 F.2d at 268. If there is “even a fair possibility that the stay for which [moving party] prays will work damage to someone else, ” then the moving party must show “a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to go forward.” Landis, 299 U.S. at 255.

         The court must also consider “the orderly course of justice measured in terms of the simplifying or complicating of issues, proof, and questions of law which could be expected to result from a stay.” CMAX, 300 F.2d at 268. In reviewing this factor, the court is mindful of the imperative that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure be “construed, administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 1; see also Landis, 299 U.S. at 254-55, 57 (a court has the inherent power “to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants” and “[h]ow this can best be done calls for the exercise of judgment, which must weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance”).

         Here, Duarte contends a stay is warranted because Robertson is expected to be heard by the Ninth Circuit in the next four to five months. Mot. at 7. Duarte also contends if its case proceeds here, it will face unnecessary expenditures in litigating at trial, if the Circuit determines the question of CWA liability is not governed by the Rapanos test as this court previously has determined. Id. at 9. The United States counters that a decision in Robertson may not issue for more than 14 months, and ongoing ...


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