United States v. Republic Steel Corporation

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Republic Steel Corp., International Harvester Company, Interlake Iron Corp.
LOCATION: Calumet River

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 362 US 482 (1960)
ARGUED: Jan 12, 1960 / Jan 13, 1960
DECIDED: May 16, 1960
GRANTED: Jun 01, 1959

J. Lee Rankin - for the petitioner
Paul R. Conaghan - for the respondents
Raymond T. Jackson - for the respondents

Facts of the case

Republic Steel Corporation, International Harvester Company, and Interlake Iron Corporation operated steel mills on the banks on the Calumet River. Their manufacturing processes produced industrial waste. Water containing waste was recycled back into the river. Most of the solid waste was separated and disposed of, but liquid and small particles were dumped into the river. Over time, these small particles reduced the river depth from 21 feet to less than 9 feet in some places. The Rivers and Waters Act prohibits the “creation of any obstruction….to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the United States.” The statue does allow for certain exceptions authorized by the Secretary of the Army. The United States sued the steel companies for creating an obstruction by dumping their industrial waste. The district court granted an injunction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the waste deposits did not constitute an “obstruction” under the Act and even if it did, an injunction was not permitted.


(1) Is the discharge of industrial waste from steel mills into a navigable waterway a violation of the Rivers and Waters Act?

(2) If so, is the U.S. entitled to an order compelling removal of the waste and enjoining further waste disposal?

Media for United States v. Republic Steel Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 1960 in United States v. Republic Steel Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 12, 1960 in United States v. Republic Steel Corporation

Earl Warren:

Number 56, United States, Petitioner, versus Republic Steel Corporation, et al.

Mr. Solicitor General.

J. Lee Rankin:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This action involves the question of an obstruction to navigation in a water that's under the jurisdiction of the United States.

The United States maintained the action in the trial court and it was reversed in the Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit.

It involves two questions, one is whether or not industrial waste can be poured into the channel of the Calumet River without being a violation of the law of the United States and secondly, whether the United States isn't entitled to an injunction against such action.

The scene of this activity is in the channel of the Calumet River about 11 miles south to the City of Chicago, along the state lines of Indiana and Illinois.

The respondents are three large manufacturing operations.

One of them engaged in iron manufacture, amongst other things, Interlake and the other two engaged in both iron and steel along with the others.

The other two are Republic and -- Republic Steel and International Harvester.

There is no dispute on the facts in regard to certain aspects of them.

We do not, on behalf of the Government, think that the factual issue is before the Court now.

It was reserved by the Court of Appeals and was not gone into.

There are contentions by the respondents that the facts did not bear out the findings of the District Court.

The Court made elaborate findings after a long trial and found against the respondents in regard to the factual matters and their principal contention where that the shoals or interference reduction of the channel of this river were due to natural causes and other manufacturing institutions and not alone to them.

The Court found that 81%, a little over 81%, of the amount of the interference or obstruction to navigation was due to these -- the activities of the -- these three respondents.

There are 27 sewers or outfalls from which this waste from these manufacturing concerns including flue dust and other things came out into this channel.

And this quite -- it's agreed between the parties that about 0 -- 0.02% of the amount of the material was the -- the kind that caused this interference or obstruction of the channel of the Calumet River.

That is not a very large amount concededly, but when you take into account the fact that they used six billions of gallons of water out of the river each month and multiply that by 12 and you have a 72 billions of gallons of water during a year.

You can see that even with .02% being of these settleable solids that it could be a substantial amount.

And then the record shows that converting this to what was established as going into the channel during the years 1952 to 1955, you find that the Republic Steel Company put in according to their proof, 19,000, during these four years, 19,000 tons of this material, or according to the Government's proof, 27,000 tons of the material during four years or better than 6000 tons of this interference during this -- during each year.

It didn't work out exactly that way because there were some times when the plants were down and that had to be taken into account and so forth.

So, it was established over the four-year period of 1952 to 1955.

Interlake's figure was an agreed figure of 20,000 tons for the four years or approximately 5000 tons that they put into this channel and International Harvester was in excess of 27,000 tons of such material for the same period.

So even that 0.02%, you can see that the amount was very great that was involved.

Now, the statute is Section 10 and 13 are the ones in issue here of the Act of the United States in regard to obstructions to navigation.

Felix Frankfurter:

Sections 10 and what Mr. Solicitor?

J. Lee Rankin:

Sections 10 and 13 and they are 33 U.S.C.

Felix Frankfurter:


J. Lee Rankin:

403 and 407.