Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic Students, Faculty Win Wetlands Preservation Victory in 7th Circuit

Students and faculty in the law school’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic (IEC), on behalf of its client American Bottom Conservancy, have scored a significant victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The ruling opens the door for the American Bottom Conservancy to continue to challenge a wetlands destruction permit for construction of a new landfill in southwestern Illinois. 

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois had dismissed the case for lack of standing. In a unanimous decision this week, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The case seeks to challenge a wetlands destruction permit granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Waste Management of Illinois for the construction of a new landfill in the Mississippi River floodplain in Illinois.

“The appellate court rightfully ruled that members of the American Bottom Conservancy, who enjoy bird-watching and observing different species of butterflies and other wildlife in the wetlands area, had standing to pursue their claim,” notes IEC attorney Elizabeth Hubertz, who served as the supervising attorney on the case. “The decision should be helpful to citizens challenging environmental decisions not only in this case, but in others.”

“The magnitude, as distinct from the directness, of the injury is not critical to the concerns that underlie the requirement of standing, and so denying a person who derives pleasure from watching wildlife of the opportunity to watch it is a sufficient injury to confer standing,” wrote Judge Richard Posner in the appellate court’s opinion. 

The case involves wetlands habitat near Horseshoe Lake that could be affected both by the permit application for a new landfill and a permit to use soil from the wetlands to cover layers of waste in the existing landfill. 

A number of clinic faculty and students worked with Hubertz on this case over the past two years. Law students include Ryan Clark, Chase Hall, Dylan Rothermel, David Eng, Aaron Oakley, Alexander Llerandi, Theresa Mohin, Eric Liu, and Ramsey Mesyef. Student consultants from Arts & Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science include Zachary Wegmann, Martha Bass, Michael Craig, Brittany Huhmann, Madeline Thomas, and Matthew Mitchel, as well as master’s of social work student Lisa Pollack. Clinic faculty include clinic co-directors Robert Kuehn and Maxine Lipeles and clinic environmental engineer Peter Goode. Clinic students played significant roles in developing the case strategy and drafting all of the key filings in the district court and appellate court. 

Established in 2000, the IEC offers students the opportunity to engage in complex litigation and other advocacy through the representation of nonprofit groups, communities, and individuals who are pursuing legal action and advocacy to protect the environment and community health, but who cannot afford the legal representation and scientific expertise this requires. 

 7th Circuit ruling [view ]  

 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article [view ]   

 Law 360 article [view ]