Clean Water Act Citizen Suits: Plaintiff and Defense Tactics for Litigation

Notice, Standing and Jurisdiction; Interpleading Third Parties and Settlement Under the CWA

Recording of a 90-minute CLE webinar with Q&A

Conducted on Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Recorded event now available

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Program Materials

This CLE webinar will provide guidance on procedural and strategic challenges for counsel defending citizen suits under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The panel will explain recent case law developments that impact citizen suits and provide strategies to manage your clients’ risks when facing citizen suits; including strategies for cost effective settlement of claims.


The Clean Water Act provides an avenue for citizens to enforce environmental laws and permits when they believe governmental agencies haven’t taken timely action against parties regulated under environmental laws. With governmental budgetary constraints, federal and state regulators frequently support citizen suits to alleviate the government’s enforcement burdens.

Ohio Valley Envtl Coalition v. Fola Coal Co. (4th Cir. Jan. 4, 2017) created a circuit split with the Sixth Circuit ruling in Sierra Club v. ICG Hazard (781 F.3d 281). Ohio Valley concluded that an NPDES permit imposed water quality obligations on the company holding the permit, and the permit did not protect it from liability for unlawful discharges.

The Sixth Circuit in ICG Hazard instead found the CWA permit shield language to be unambiguous and that it must give deference to the EPA’s interpretation allowing some pollutants to be discharged, even though not specifically listed in the NPDES permit.

Some parties have interpleaded third parties into CWA citizen suits as a potential defense to encourage cost-sharing and settlement, among other reasons. Counsel should prepare to overcome procedural and strategic challenges in citizen suits.

Listen as our panel examines citizen suits under the CWA, focusing on defenses and strategies for litigating and settling these matters. The panel will discuss recent case law developments, including the circuit split created by the Fourth Circuit’s Ohio Valley decision. The panel will also provide best practices to minimize the risks of being hit with a citizen suit.



  1. Defenses
    1. Challenges to
      1. Notice
      2. Standing
      3. Jurisdiction
    2. Interpleading third parties into CWA citizen suits
    3. NPDES permit shield defense
    4. Others
  2. Novel litigation approaches to CWA citizen suits
  3. Court developments—addressing the circuit split
  4. Strategies for prevailing in CWA citizen suits; including effective settlement


The panel will review these and other key issues:

  • Court-tested litigation defense tactics to prevail on notice and standing in CWA citizen suits
  • Effective jurisdictional arguments relying on and differentiating between recent EPA actions and court rulings
  • Preemption of CWA citizen suits through state or federal agency settlements
  • Effective settlement strategies


Hayes, Justin
Justin Hayes

Program Director
Idaho Conservation League

Mr. Hayes oversees the organization’s conservation programs. His work includes mercury and mining, air quality,...  |  Read More

Klein, Eric
Eric L. Klein

Beveridge & Diamond

Mr. Klein is an environmental civil litigator and regulatory counselor. He has handled cases in state and federal...  |  Read More

Metcalf, Nathan
Nathan A. Metcalf

Hanson Bridgett

Mr. Metcalf has over a decade of experience in environmental law and water law. He advises clients on water rights...  |  Read More

Sullivan, Timothy
Timothy M. Sullivan

Beveridge & Diamond

Mr. Sullivan's practice focuses primarily on environmental and natural resources litigation before federal and...  |  Read More

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