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Washington Trout v. McCain Foods, Inc.



The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and environmental groups filed suit against McCain Foods, a potato processor in WashingtonState, claiming McCain’s alleged discharges into Owl Creek violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) because McCain did not have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case, finding that the notice requirement for citizen suits provided in CWA regulations is a mandatory precondition to bringing suit under the CWA.

In a sixty-day notice letter, the Union notified McCain of alleged violations and its intent to sue. It failed, however, to name the two environmental groups, the Central Basin Audubon Society and Washington Trout, who later became the only plaintiffs in the suit. The plaintiffs argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hallstrom v. Tillamook County[1] was distinguishable because the petitioners in Hallstrom provided no notice prior to filing suit. Plaintiffs also contended that their notice to McCain satisfied the general purposes of a notice requirement and therefore the technical deficiencies of the notice should not defeat subject matter jurisdiction.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed and held that Hallstrom was applicable to the notice requirements under the CWA. The CWA regulations require plaintiffs to be named in the notice so that the parties have an opportunity to resolve their conflicts before litigation. Because the Union did not provide the names of the plaintiffs in the suit that followed the notice letter, the court held the Union’s notice to McCain was insufficient and the suit was properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

[1]493 U.S. 20, 26 (1989) (holding that compliance with the sixty-day notice provision under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is a mandatory, not optional, condition precedent for suit).

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