Stern v. Halligan

158 F.3d 729 (3rd Cir. 1998)
  • Opinion Date: October 7, 1998

MUNICIPALITIES; WATER SUPPLIES—It is constitutional for a municipality to require property owners to abandon their own private water wells and hook up to the public supply.

Several homeowners whose properties were served by privately-owned well water were ordered by their municipality to connect to the municipal water supply. When one of the homeowners refused, a lien was placed on his property. The homeowners filed suit against the municipality’s utilities authority and various local officials, alleging that the mandatory connection requirement was unconstitutional because it exceeded the powers of the municipality, constituted a taking, and unlawfully forced the homeowners into an unwanted contract. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the municipality finding that a rational basis existed for the ordinances.

In upholding the decision of the Court, the Third Circuit applied the rational basis standard. It found that the ordinance’s goal to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of the municipality’s residences was clearly in the public interest. It also found that private wells can be unsafe because they often are shallower than most public supply wells and thus more easily contaminated. These potential harms provided the municipality with ample justification for its regulation of the wells. The Court also rejected the homeowner’s assertion that the wells must be proved dangerous before the municipality is permitted to act. Furthermore, forcing the homeowners to cap or disconnect their wells in addition to requiring them to hook up to the municipal water supply did not constitute an additional harm to the homeowners and was justifiable under the circumstances.