United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes

Primary Discussion Question 2

The most important part of this case, at least for the purposes of this course, is Section IV (pp. 131–139), in which the Court concludes that the Corps of Engineers’ regulations include the land owned by Riverside Bayview Homes within the section 404 permitting scheme for dredge-and-fill operations.  What texts does the Court use, and how does it use them, to buttress its conclusion?


According to the Court:

"This case presents the question whether the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq., together with certain regulations promulgated under its authority by the Army Corps of Engineers, authorizes the Corps to require landowners to obtain permits from the Corps before discharging fill material into wetlands adjacent to navigable bodies of water and their tributaries."  474 U.S. at 123.    {Go to this passage in the opinion.}

This case is, in other words, a case about whether an agency's rules are permitted by Congress' statute.  Obviously, the Court is likely to cite both the relevant statute and the relevant rules.  And, as with any case, the Court is likely to cite court opinions.  So one may more or less take for granted that the Court will consult at least three kinds of texts:

This is hardly the end of the list of texts employed by this court, however. 

The Court cites not only the actual language of the rules in question, but also earlier versions of the rules, as well as the Corps' rationale for the current rule. 

It is with respect to statutes and other texts related to the legislative process that the Court consults the largest number of documents both qualitatively and quantitatively.   The Court cites not only the actual provision at issue in the statute but also provisions setting forth the statute's purpose, provisions noting that the Corps' jurisdiction over certain discharges of fill is exclusive even though states may be given jurisdiction over certain other discharges, and provisions authorizing the expenditure of federal monies (by an agency other than the Corps) for wetlands research.  The Court cites not only statutory language but also the language of House reports, Senate reports, Conference Committee reports, and debate on the floor of the House and the Senate.  The Court also discusses provisions never incorporated into law: language in a bill that passed the House but was rejected by the Conference Committee, as well as similar language proposed but not adopted in an amendment to the Senate bill.

As to court opinions, the Court cites five of its own (majority) opinions in Section IV and no other court cases.  Elsewhere in the opinion, the Court cites a welter of its own majority opinions (and one concurring opinion, by Justice Brandeis) as well as the opinion below of both the District Court and the Circuit Court.


You may consult a hypertextual version of this page that lets you visit the portion of the opinion actually citing the variety of texts discussed on this page.


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This page was last updated on 03/22/99.