24 February 2015

Law in Plain English: Kansas v. Nebraska and Colorado

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogKansas v. Nebraska and Colorado

Argument: Oct 14 2014 (Aud.)

Bridge across the Republican River near Riverton, Nebraska
Background: In an original action, Kansas sought a remedy both for Nebraska’s breach in 2006 of the 1943 Republican River Compact and for what Kansas claimed is Nebraska’s likely continued breach of that Compact in the future. Kansas argued that Nebraska’s conduct also violated a prior decree of the Court approving an earlier settlement among the parties. Nebraska, in turn, both opposed Kansas’ claims and asserted a counterclaim seeking to correct what it claims is a mistake in the accounting procedures used under the terms of that earlier settlement agreement. A Special Master appointed by the Court recommended that the Court declare Nebraska to have breached the 1943 Compact by consuming a total of 70,869 acre-feet of water in excess of its Compact allocation in 2005 and 2006; that the Court enter judgment against Nebraska and in favor of Kansas in the amount of $5,500,000; that the Court otherwise deny Kansas’claims for relief; and that the Court order the accounting procedures used by the states reformed to correct a mistake.

Documents filed with the Special Master are available here.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether Nebraska violated a compact apportioning the waters of the Republican River between Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado; if so, what relief is appropriate to remedy the violation.

Holding: The Supreme Court ruled that Nebraska “knowingly failed” to comply with its Settlement obligations, and disgorgement is an appropriate remedy for Nebraska’s breach.

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