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ENRLC Files Brief in Wetlands Case

May 18, 2010

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a ruling May 12 in Columbia Venture v. Dewberry & Davis affirming the decision of the district court and agreeing with the arguments made by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic in an amicus brief submitted on behalf of the Association of State Wetland Managers. A consulting firm had recommended that the Federal Emergency Management Agency designate a certain area of South Carolina as floodplains. FEMA's actions based on this recommendation disrupted a local developer's plans for turning the area into a housing development. The developer sued the consulting firm under state law for professional malpractice, civil conspiracy, injurious falsehood and violation of the South Carolina's Unfair Trade Practices Act. The main issue on appeal was whether the state law claims were preempted by the federal floodplains protection law. An ENRLC student, Lydia Fiedler '09, wrote the amicus brief, which explained that this was not a close case but one that easily fit within the scope of well established jurisprudence on conflict preemption. The goal of the ENRLC and ASWM was to protect consultants from this kind of litigation, so that they can make sound technical and scientific recommendations to FEMA without fear of being sued. This, in turn, will help promote better oversight and management of development activities in floodplains and wetland areas.

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