Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Supreme Court Oral Argument In Solid Waste Flow Control Case

Jan 8: The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United Haulers Assoc., Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority (Case No. 05-1345). The case is being appealed from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, February 16, 2006, decision (Case No. 05-2024) which upheld the Northern District of New York decision [See WIMS 3/1/06]. The district court found that the municipal solid waste flow control ordinances enacted and implemented by the Authority did not impose a "differential burden on interstate commerce."

The Second Circuit said in its decision, "even if we were to recognize that the ordinances burden interstate commerce, we would find that the burden imposed is not clearly excessive in relation to the local benefits conferred by the ordinances... We therefore decline to resolve the former question," and affirmed the district court decision. The Second Circuit said further, "In our view, then, the local benefits of the flow control measures substantially outweigh whatever modest differential burden they may place on interstate commerce." The Second Circuit decision raises a rationale for local flow control regulations, which have basically been deemed invalid since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its definitive ruling in C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Town of Clarkstown, 511 U.S. 383, 386 (1994) [
See WIMS 11/14/06].

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) and the American Trucking Associations (ATA) filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Second Circuit's "controversial decision" which they say could lead to a resumption of local solid waste disposal monopolies – reducing competition and raising prices for consumers [
See WIMS 11/17/06].

Adding to the interest in the case the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, in the case of National Solid Wastes v. Daviess County KY (Case No. 04-6498), upheld a district court ruling in a similar case saying that a proposed Daviess County Ordinance was unconstitutional, and enjoined the County from enforcing it [See WIMS 1/25/06]. In that case the Sixth Circuit said, it refused to adopt what it termed, "the public-private distinction with respect to the dormant commerce clause;" as provided in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals United Haulers case.

The Supreme Court oral argument included appearances by Evan Tager representing the waste hauling Petitioners; Michael Cahill, representing the Respondent Authority; and Caitlin Halligan, Solicitor General, New York, N.Y.; on behalf of New York, as amicus curiae, supporting Respondents. After arguments from each, Tager was allowed a rebuttal. Tager argued that, "The barriers to interstate commerce imposed by the flow control ordinances in this case are even more severe than those resulting from the ordinance this Court struck down in Carbone."

The Justices appeared to be carving out an exception regarding public vs. private operations. Chief Justice Roberts asked the question, "What happens in a lot of municipalities of course is that they decide, well, we're going to run the waste treatment facility and we're going to tax the people in the municipality to support it and the service is going to be free. Now, is that a violation of the Commerce Clause?" Justice Ginsburg said, "I'm sorry. At least as I read the Carbone opinion, it didn't deal with the public-private distinction." Justice Breyer said, "Well, there is still at least the obvious distinction, that one of the main purposes of the dormant Commerce Clause is to prevent protectionism... But now where the municipality is running it itself, no one is favored." Justice Souter said to Tager, "It sounds to me as though, if we accept your argument that, going back to Justice Breyer's first question, every municipal utility in the United States is going to fall."

Respondent attorney Cahill said, "No decision of this Court has held that public service is comparable to private enterprise for purposes of dormant Commerce Clause analysis. Here the only entity that benefits from these laws is the government itself... I don't think that we're engaging in commercial activity in this particular case. If we were to offer our services to citizens to whom we do not have a governmental responsibility, then I think we're entering into the realm of competition with the private sector.

The New York Solicitor General Halligan argued, "As you suggested, Justice Breyer, the theory that petitioners would have the Court adopt here is in fact a novel one. What they are suggesting is that there is discrimination sufficient to trigger near fatal scrutiny every time the government takes over, to the exclusion of all private actors both in state and out of state, a government service, that that is sufficient to trigger strict scrutiny. That is completely inconsistent with the way that this Court has defined what constitutes discrimination for purposes of the dormant Commerce Clause."

Access the complete oral argument transcript (
click here). Access the Supreme Court docket in the case (click here). Access a more detailed account of the long history in this case from the Medill School of Journalism (click here). Access the Second Circuit opinion (click here). Access the Sixth Circuit opinion (click here). [*Solid]