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U.S. Court of Appeals Issues Split WOTUS Ruling

Agriculture Blog Post
March 18, 2016

On February 22, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Cincinnati) issued a split 2-1 decision, ruling that it has jurisdiction to proceed with challenges to the Obama administration's "Waters of the United States" rule, or WOTUS, as opposed to federal district courts. A wide range of government, industry and agriculture interests have filed lawsuits in several district courts across the U.S. challenging the WOTUS rule.

The decision came in the form of three separate opinions, as each judge had a different view of the law on this complex issue. Two judges concluded that the appellate court has jurisdiction over the legal challenges to the WOTUS rule; the third judge concluded that the appellate court lacks jurisdiction over these cases.

It is speculated that the split decision makes it very likely that the state and industry petitioners will seek en banc review of the ruling, meaning that it would go to rehearing before the entire Sixth Circuit for additional review. Challengers will need to petition the court within 45 days to request rehearing.

The decision, which does not answer the legality of the WOTUS rule, but rather which court has authority to review it, means that stay of the WOTUS rule issued last year by the Sixth Circuit will continue in effect until further rulings.

The decision could also be appealed, potentially to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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