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Washington–the fate of the so-called catalyst theory of attorney fees–an incentive for bringing citizen suits under federal environmental laws–hangs in the balance after arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The justices heard arguments on Oct. 12 in Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, No. 98-822, which essentially raises two questions: Is a citizen suit for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act moot because the defendant came into compliance during the litigation? And if it is, can the citizen-plaintiffs be awarded attorney fees under the catalyst theory?

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