Tarrant Regional Water Dist. v. Herrmann

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Water Rights
  • Date Filed: January 4, 2013
  • Case #: 11-889
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, 656 F.3d 1222 (2011)
  • Full Text Opinion

(1) Whether Congress’ ratification of an interstate compact constitutes “expressly stated” or “unmistakably clear” congressional intent to immunize the relevant state laws from dormant Commerce Clause scrutiny; and (2) whether the compact preempts state laws that limit other signatories’ access to the water in question.

In 1980 Congress ratified an interstate compact between Oklahoma, Texas and two other states apportioning water rights to the Red River that divides Texas and Oklahoma. Subsequent to ratification of the compact, Oklahoma established the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) to regulate water appropriations and passed several statutes establishing criteria upon which the OWRB must rely when deciding on applications. Petitioner is a state agency responsible for providing water to north-central Texas. In an effort to obtain water, Petitioner applied to the OWRB to appropriate water subject to the compact, and also reached agreements with private owners of groundwater rights not subject to the compact and with the Apache Tribe.

Prior to filing its applications, Petitioner sued the OWRB seeking a declaratory judgment that the Oklahoma statutes were unconstitutional because in treating intrastate applications differently from out-of-state applications the statutes place burdens on interstate commerce in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause. Petitioner also sought an injunction against the OWRB applying the statutes to Petitioner’s applications.

The district court granted summary judgment for OWRB and the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed. On appeal, Petitioner argues that if Congress intended to waive the dormant Commerce Clause requirements when it ratified the interstate compact, it must have expressed that intent unambiguously, and that by failing to do so, the plain language of the compact preempts any state law to the contrary.

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