ST. LOUIS (CN) – Missouri waived its sovereign immunity by choosing to join the United States in a lawsuit accusing the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District of dumping untreated wastewater and sewage, the 8th Circuit ruled.
The ruling means Missouri could be held liable for reimbursing the district for the costs of complying with the Clean Water Act.
Missouri and the United States sought civil penalties and an order blocking the district from dumping any more untreated wastewater and sewage.
The district argued that the Missouri Constitution limits its authority as a political subdivision to levy taxes and raise the money it would need to comply with any judgment in the case.
It filed two counterclaims, both claiming the state must help pay for the costs of compliance.
Missouri moved to dismiss Metropolitan’s counterclaims, saying they were barred by sovereign immunity. Missouri argued that it did not waive its immunity by joining the United States’ petition because it was compelled to.
But the district court ruled that Missouri had waived its immunity by filing suit as a plaintiff, and the 8th Circuit agreed.
“The filing of a complaint in a federal district court is the quintessential means of invoking its jurisdiction,” Judge Diana E. Murphy wrote. “There is no indication in the record that Missouri was reluctant to proceed as co-plaintiff since it participated in filing the original complaint with the United States rather than being forcibly joined in the litigation at a later time.”