The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted Mississippi’s request to file a new lawsuit claiming Memphis is stealing its water, reports the Commercial Appeal. The move keeps alive a legal battle now in its 11th year.
Four years after denying a similar request, the court approved the state’s motion for leave to file a bill of complaint. The ruling gives defendants 30 days to file an answer.
In a 300-plus-page motion filed with the court last year, Mississippi had asked permission to file a new complaint seeking at least $615 million in damages. The proposed complaint names Memphis, the city-owned Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division and the state of Tennessee as defendants.
The legal battle centers on MLGW’s pumping of at least 140 million gallons of water daily from a high-quality aquifer known alternately as the Memphis Sand and Sparta Sand. Mississippi’s proposed complaint says Memphis’ wells have created “cones of depression” in the water table that suck water across state lines into Tennessee.
Through that process, the city has “forcibly” taken an estimated 252 billion gallons of Mississippi’s water since 1985, the state says.
The case dates back to 2005, when Mississippi Atty. Gen. Jim Hood filed suit against Memphis and MLGW in federal court in Oxford, Mississippi. That complaint sought up to $1.3 billion in damages and could have required the city to draw water from the Mississippi River. In February 2008, U.S. Dist. Judge Glen H. Davidson ruled that his court lacked jurisdiction because the state of Tennessee must be brought in as a “necessary and indispensable” party. In a dispute between states, the arbiter must be the Supreme Court, he said.
Davidson’s ruling was upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And in January 2010, the Supreme Court, without comment, denied Mississippi’s motion to overturn an appellate court’s ruling and rejected the state’s motion to file a new suit.
The new filing adds Tennessee as a defendant.
…David Bearman, an attorney representing Memphis and MLGW, said the ruling doesn’t mean Mississippi will ultimately prevail in the legal battle. “I would say we’re disappointed that Mississippi is being allowed to file its complaint, but we still feel like we’ve got a very strong case,” he said.