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STRINGFELLOW ET AL. v. CONCERNED NEIGHBORS ACTION ET AL.

decided: March 9, 1987.

STRINGFELLOW ET AL
v.
CONCERNED NEIGHBORS IN ACTION ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Powell, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, Blackmun, Stevens, O'connor, and Scalia, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II-B of which Brennan and Marshall, JJ., joined. Brennan, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Marshall, J., joined, post, p. 380.

Author: Powell

[ 480 U.S. Page 372]

 JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before us is whether a district court order granting permissive intervention but denying intervention as of right is immediately appealable.

I

This case is part of the ongoing litigation concerning the Stringfellow Acid Pits, an abandoned hazardous waste disposal site near Glen Avon, California. Petitioners are 28 individuals, companies, or entities who formerly owned or operated the Acid Pits, or who allegedly produced or transported the wastes that were dumped at the disposal site. In 1983 the United States and the State of California filed suit against petitioners, claiming that the Acid Pits created a substantial danger to the surrounding area. The Government plaintiffs sought injunctive relief that would require petitioners to abate the release of harmful substances from the site, and to take remedial steps to correct the unsafe conditions. Both the United States and California also requested reimbursement for the costs incurred in bringing about the cleanup.

Shortly after the complaint was filed, respondent Concerned Neighbors in Action (CNA), a nonprofit organization whose members live near the dumpsite, moved to intervene in the litigation. CNA claimed that it was entitled to intervene as a matter of right pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a), because it had a substantial interest in the suit that would not be represented adequately by the existing parties.*fn1 CNA also asserted that the citizen suit provisions

[ 480 U.S. Page 373]

     of various environmental statutes allowed intervention as of right in these circumstances.*fn2 Alternatively, CNA claimed that it should be allowed to intervene by permission pursuant to Rule 24(b).

The District Court denied the request to intervene as of right, but granted CNA's application to become a permissive intervenor. The court concluded, however, that CNA's right to participate should be subject to three conditions. First, it held that CNA could not assert any claim for relief that had not already been requested by one of the original parties. The court found that "allowing applicants to assert their individualized damage and other claims would burden and expand an already complex litigation, and could jeopardize the possibility of settlement." App. to Pet. for Cert. A-19. Second, CNA could not intervene in the Government plaintiffs' claim for recovery of the clean-up costs. Finally, in an effort to "minimize any delay and confusion involved in discovery," the District Court ruled that CNA could not file any motions or conduct its own discovery unless it first conferred with all the original parties, and then obtained permission to go forward from at least one of these litigants. Id., at A-20. The court emphasized, though, that CNA had the right to attend all depositions, to participate to the extent not duplicative of the original parties, and to receive copies of all discovery material produced by the other litigants.

[ 480 U.S. Page 374]

     CNA filed an immediate appeal, protesting both the denial of the application to intervene as of right and the restrictions imposed on permissive intervention. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit initially dismissed the appeal, finding that the District Court order was not a "final decision" within the meaning of 28 U. S. C. ยง 1291.*fn3 The court's decision was largely based on the fact that CNA had been made a party to the litigation and could protect its interests fully during an appeal from the final judgment. The Ninth Circuit also noted that its decision was consistent with the results reached by other Courts of Appeals in similar cases.*fn4 The court subsequently withdrew its opinion, however, concluding that the holding was inconsistent with Ninth Circuit precedent. Relying on California v. Block, 690 F.2d 753, 776 (1982), the court ruled that "[denial] of intervention as of right is a final appealable order, despite the grant of permissive intervention." App. to Pet. for Cert. A-26. The court ordered further briefing on the merits of the intervention application, and ultimately held that CNA must be allowed to intervene as of right. United States v. Stringfellow, 755 F.2d 1383 (1985) (order). See also 783 F.2d 821 (1986) (opinion).

We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict among the Courts of Appeals as to whether this type of pretrial order is subject to immediate appeal. 476 U.S. 1157. We now vacate and remand.

II

CNA acknowledges that the District Court order in this case is not "final" in the traditional sense. The decision concerning

[ 480 U.S. Page 375]

     CNA's intervenor status clearly is not one that "ends the litigation on the merits and leaves nothing for the court to do but execute the judgment." See Catlin v. United States, 324 U.S. 229, 233 (1945). Instead, CNA argues that the order falls within one of the narrow categories of decisions that we have deemed ...


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