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News Brief: Seventh Circuit Rules That Private Citizens Can Sue For Past EPCRA Violations

Fall 1996

In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that private citizens can sue for wholly past violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know-Act ("EPCRA"). In Citizens for a Better Environment v. Steel Co., (CA 7, No. 96-1136, 7/23/96) a citizen group filed suit against a Chicago manufacturer and pickler of steel for allegedly failing to comply with EPCRA annual reporting requirements. After receiving notice of the citizens’ intent to file suit, the company late-filed with appropriate governmental authorities.

The district court ruled that the late-filing barred suit because the EPCRA citizen suit provision only extends to the failure to report, not to untimely compliance. The Seventh Circuit disagreed. The court noted that EPCRA authorizes suit for "failure to comply" with the statute and that suit may be brought where the "violation occurred." Relying on the statutory language the Seventh Circuit held that EPCRA authorizes suit for wholly past violations and late filings. The conclusion of the Seventh Circuit runs counter to the ruling in a similar Sixth Circuit case, creating a split in the federal circuits.

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