Flow Control of Solid Wastes
Flow control refers to state or local laws that direct where waste materials should be disposed or processed.
In October 2012, a federal district court in Texas issued a permanent injunction enjoining the City of Dallas from enforcing its flow control law. The court concluded Dallas' flow control law violated the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Due Course Provision of the Texas Constitution, and the Dallas City Code. The decision follows an earlier ruling by the court issuing a preliminary injunction blocking the law from taking effect. NSWMA v. City of Dallas, No. 11-3200 (N.D. Tex., Jan. 31, 2012). The court has declined to embrace Dallas' interpretation of its authority under the Police Power, rejected Dallas' "proffered justifications" for the flow control law, and concluded the law was enacted as a revenue-raising measure. The decision underscores that despite the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in the United Haulers case (discussed below), there are constitutional limits to local governments' authority over solid waste management that courts will not hesitate to enforce.
A federal court in New York ruled Oswego County’s 2008 Flow Control Law was unconstitutionally vague, finding that “not only does the Flow Control Law in question authorize and encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, such arbitrary enforcement is manifest here.” JWJ Industries v. Oswego County, 794 F. Supp. 2d 211 (N.D.N.Y. 2011). The Court enjoined Oswego County from enforcing the flow control against plaintiffs until it corrected and clarified the law, addressing the shortcomings as set forth in the June 2011 order. Oswego County amended the 2008 Flow Control Law in December 2011. In February 2012, plaintiffs moved for a TRO and Preliminary Injunction with respect to enforcement of the 2011 Law against them. The Court granted the TRO in March 2012 and granted the preliminary injunction in April 2012.
C&A Carbone Inc. filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York in 2008, challenging Rockland County's flow control law. Rockland County's law requires haulers to bring waste and recyclables originating in the county to County-owned, privately-operated facilities. This is outside the express scope of the Supreme Court's decision in the United Haulers case, and may result in the first post-United Haulers federal court decision to address this issue. Discovery in the case concludes in late 2012 and summary judgment motions are expected to be filed in early 2013.
On April 30, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United Haulers Association Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, 550 U.S. 330 (2007) that local governments are permitted to engage in flow control to government-owned and operated disposal facilities in specific circumstances. The Court concluded that flow control laws that favor government-owned and operated disposal facilities do not discriminate against interstate commerce, and are reviewed under a more lenient Pike balancing test. The Court's decision narrows the impact of the Court's Carbone decision in 1994 (see below). Some public sector advocates and officials argue that the court's 2007 decision does not preclude flow control to publicly-owned, privately-operated disposal facilities.
In August 2008, a federal appeals court in Pennsylvania reversed a lower court decision that had struck down a flow control law, and remanded the case for analysis under the Pike balancing test. Lebanon Farms Disposal, Inc. v County of Lebanon, No. 06-3473 (3d Cir. Aug. 6, 2008). In March 2008, a federal district court in Georgia, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court's United Haulers decision, upheld a flow control law directing waste to county-owned and county-operated landfill. See Quality Compliance Services, Inc. v. Dougherty Cty., No. 05-CV-19 (M.D. Ga.) (Mar. 31, 2008). That same month, a federal district court in Pennsylvania enjoined a county flow control law directing waste to a county-owned but privately-operated transfer station. NSWMA v. Delaware County Solid Waste Authority, No. 08-CV-1170 (E.D. Pa).
The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in C&A Carbone, Inc. v. Town of Clarkstown, 511 U.S. 383 (1994) that flow control violates the "dormant" Commerce Clause. Between 1994 and 2007, several exceptions to this general principle have developed. The scope of these exceptions, and their application to specific factual circumstances involving solid waste, continue to be litigated in the federal courts.
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the United Haulers case resolved a split between the Second Circuit and Sixth Circuit concerning whether flow control laws that benefit government-owned and operated waste disposal facilities are subject to more lenient review under the Commerce Clause than similar laws benefiting privately-owned or operated waste disposal facilities. The case involved flow control laws enacted by a waste authority in New York. The flow control laws were initially struck down by a federal district court applying Carbone but a federal appeals court (Second Circuit) ruled flow control laws that designate government-owned disposal facilities are subject to the lenient Pike balancing test, and not the "virtually per se illegal" test applied by the Supreme Court to strike down Clarkstown, New York's flow control law in the Carbone case. The Second Circuit concluded the benefits of the flow control law outweigh any possible burden on interstate commerce. The Supreme Court upheld that decision in its April 30, 2007 opinion.
The principal briefs filed by the United Haulers Association and Oneida-Herkimer, and the amicus brief filed by NSWMA in support of United Haulers are here:
The American Bar Association's website contains additional information about the case, including copies of all the amicus briefs filed in the case.
Other federal courts had expressly declined to follow the Second Circuit's Court of Appeals reasoning in United Haulers. In January 2006, the Sixth Circuit affirmed a federal district court ruling that a Kentucky county's flow control law was unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause, specifically rejecting the public/private distinction invented by the Second Circuit in United Haulers. In NSWMA v. Daviess County, 424 F.3d 898 (6th Cir. 2006), the appeals court firmly stated it "respectfully disagrees with the Second Circuit on the proposition that Carbone lends support for the public-private distinction drawn by that court." The U.S. Supreme Court has vacated the Sixth Circuit's decision, and the lawsuit has been dismissed.
Between the U.S. Supreme Court's 1994 decision in Carbone and its 2007 decision in United Haulers, lower courts developed several exceptions to the Carbone principle that flow control laws are "per se" invalid.
Non-Discriminatory Flow Control Exception
These decisions hold that if the process by which local governments selected specific service providers or facilities is non-discriminatory, then requiring the use of these providers or facilities does not violate interstate commerce.
Market Participant Exception
These decisions consider whether a government entity is a "market participant" instead of a regulator, so that the government entity is not subject to the "strict scrutiny" test set forth in the Carbone decision and other cases.
- Southern Waste Systems, LLC v. City of Delray Beach, No. 04-13035 (11th Cir. Aug. 15, 2005) (exclusive franchise does not violate Commerce Clause; whether local government bills customers under such a franchise is not relevant to inquiry).
- Huish Detergents, Inc. v. Warren County, 213 F.3d 707 (6th Cir. 2000)
- Sal Tinnerello & Sons v. Town of Stonington, 141 F.3d 46 (2d Cir. 1998)
- NSWMA v. Williams, 146 F.3d 593 (8th Cir. 1998)
- USA Recycling, Inc. v. Town of Babylon, 66 F.3d 1272 (2d Cir. 1995)
- SSC Corp. v. Town of Smithtown, 66 F.3d 502 (2d Cir. 1995)
Intrastate Flow Control Exception
These decisions consider whether government laws directing all solid waste to specific in-state facilities, but allowing such waste to be processed at out-of-state facilities, implicate the Commerce Clause.
- IESI Ar. Corp. v. Northwest Arkansas Regional Solid Waste Mgmt. Dist.,433 F.3d 600 (8th Cir. 2006)
- On The Green Apartments L.L.C. v. City of Tacoma, 241 F.3d 1235 (9th Cir. 2001)
- U&I Hauling v. City of Columbus, 205 F.3d 1063 (8th Cir. 2000)
- Ben Oehrleins and Sons & Daughters, Inc. v. Hennepin County, 15 F.3d 1372 (8th Cir. 1997)
- Randy's Sanitation v. Wright County, GS F. Supp.2d 1017 (D. Minn. 1999)
- Coastal Carting Ltd., Inc. v. Broward County, 75 F. Supp. 2d 1350 (S.D. Fla. 1999)
- Waste Management of Michigan v. Ingham County, 941 F. Supp. 656 (W.D. Mich. 1996)
- Vince Refuse Service, Inc. v. Clark County Solid Waste Management District, No. 93-319 (S.D. Ohio 1995)
Economic Flow Control Exception
These decisions consider whether using market forces such as fees to encourage solid waste to favored facilities violates the Commerce Clause or applicable state solid waste laws.
- Waste Connections of Nebraska, Inc. v. City of Lincoln, 269 Neb. 855 (May 27, 2005) ($7.00 per ton tax imposed on all haulers who tip waste in Nebraska "is not a burden on interstate commerce")
- Oxford Associates v. Waste System Authority of Eastern Montgomery Cty, 271 F.3d 140 (3d Cir. 2001) ($76.25 per ton generator fee "offends the Commerce Clause")
- City of Paterson v. Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders, 164 N.J. 270 (2000) (striking down NJ waste fees imposed to incentivize use of favored waste facilities, on state law grounds)
- Zenith/Kremer Waste Systems, Inc. v. Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, 572 N.W. 2d 300 (Minn. 1997), cert. denied, 523 U.S. 1145 (1998) (upholding $28 per ton waste fee coupled with $24 per ton reduction in tip fee as not violated Commerce Clause)