(CN) – The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District can ask Missouri to cover the costs of cleaning up its piping systems to eliminate raw sewage overflow, the 8th Circuit ruled. The court said the state waived its sovereign immunity when it chose to sue the water district as a co-plaintiff.
The United States and Missouri sued the water district under the Clean Water Act, saying the district needed to better manage the wastewater and stormwater systems that served 1.4 million residential and commercial users in the St. Louis area.
The water district argued that the state Constitution limits its ability to levy taxes and otherwise raise the money needed to comply with federal regulations. Its counterclaim alleged that, because its hands were tied, the state can’t hold it liable for the costs of compliance.
The state moved to dismiss the counterclaims, asserting its sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment. It also pointed out that it had only joined the lawsuit based on a provision of the Clean Water Act that required it to do so. It did not waive its sovereign immunity simply by following the law, Missouri argued.
The St. Louis-based appeals court affirmed the lower court’s denial of the state’s motion.
“We conclude that by choosing to proceed in this action as a plaintiff, the state of Missouri waived its immunity,” Judge Murphy wrote. “There is no indication in the record that Missouri was reluctant to proceed as a 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.”