Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, October 26, 2007

Robison: CWA Convictions Reversed

In U.S. v. Robison, No. 05-17019 (Oct. 24, 2007), the Court reversed the convictions of defendants found guilty of Clean Water Act violations, and also reversed a conviction for giving a false statement.
The Court held that the definition of "navigable waters" under the CWA in the jury instructions was erroneous under Rapanos v. U.S., 126 S.Ct. 2208 (2006). Though recognizing some confusion in the law regarding Rapanos’ definition of "navigable waters," the Court held that it involved a "significant nexus" between the waters affected by a defendant’s pollution and waters that are in fact "navigable." The instruction failed to convey this concept, and this error was not harmless, because there was no evidence that the creek into which the defendants dumped pollutants caused harm to the river into which the creek flowed.
Turning to the false statement conviction, a specific intent crime, the Court noted that the statement in question merely certified that reports had been prepared under the person’s supervision. This representation was true, and it did not establish that the person making the statement knew that the reports were false, or vouched for the accuracy of the reports. Hence the evidence was insufficient to sustain the false statement conviction.