C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Town of Clarkstown

PETITIONER:C & A Carbone, Inc., et al.
RESPONDENT:Town of Clarkstown
LOCATION:C & A Carbone Inc.

DOCKET NO.: 92-1402
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 511 US 383 (1994)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1993
DECIDED: May 16, 1994

Betty Jo Christian – on behalf of the Petitioners
William C. Brashares – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

A New York town, Clarkstown, allowed a contractor to construct and operate a waste processing plant within town limits. The revenue from the plant would help compensate the contractor. Clarkstown promised that the plant would receive 120,000 tons of solid waste each year, and permitted the contractor to charge an $81 “tipping fee” for each ton received. To meet the 120,000 ton quota, Clarkstown adopted a “flow control ordinance.” The ordinance required that all solid waste flowing into and out of the town pass through the new plant. C & A Carbone, Inc. operated a similar plant within the town. To avoid paying the $81 fee, Carbone trucked processed waste directly to an Indiana landfill. In 1991, a Carbone truck carrying illegal waste crashed and police discovered that Carbone was violating the ordinance. Clarkstown sued Carbone in a New York Supreme Court. Carbone responded by suing Clarkstown in a federal District Court, claiming that the ordinance violated the Commerce Clause by disrupting interstate commerce. The District Court agreed but dissolved its injunction against Clarkstown when the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of Clarkstown.


Does a town’s “flow control ordinance,” which requires that all waste pass through a certain waste processing plant, violate the interstate Commerce Clause by disrupting commerce for waste processing plants in other states?

Media for C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Town of Clarkstown

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 07, 1993 in C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Town of Clarkstown

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 16, 1994 in C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Town of Clarkstown

Harry A. Blackmun:

Justice Kennedy

Anthony M. Kennedy:

I have the opinion for the Court in C & A Carbone, Inc. versus the Town of Clarkstown, No.92-1402.

As solid waste output continues apace and landfill capacity becomes more costly and scares.

State and local governments are expanding significant resources to develop trash control systems that are efficient, lawful, and protective of the environment.

The difficulty of their task is evident from the number of cases this Court has served involving waste transfer and treatment.

This case considers a measure commonly called a flow control ordinance.

The Town of Clarkstown, which is located in Southern New York near the New Jersey boarder, enacted the flow control ordinance to ensure that the transfer station that it caused to be built would be a profitable enterprise.

The ordinance requires all solid wastes to be processed at one designated transfer station before leaving the municipality.

The transfer station charged a fee for disposal of unsorted solid waste in excess of the fee charge in the private market.

In other words, all of the waste had to go to one transfer station and that transfer station charged more than the market rate for processing.

As part of this arrangement, the contractor who built the transfer station agreed to operate it for five years and then sell it to the town for $1.

The flow control ordinance, thus, serve to amortize the cost for Clarkstown to construct its own waste transfer facility.

The town filed suit in New York State Court against C & A Carbone, the petitioner in this case, a solemn injunction requiring Carbone to use the designated transfer station rather than Carbone’s own facility in Clarkstown.

The court granted the injunction and the Appellate Division affirmed.

We granted certiorari to consider whether the flow control ordinance violates the Commerce Clause.

It is well-established that the Commerce Clause prohibits local laws that impose commercial barriers that discriminate against an article of commerce by reason of its origin or destination out of state.

Clarkstown protest that its ordinance does not discriminate because it does not differentiate solid waste on the basis of its geographic origin.

All solid waste, regardless of its origin, must be processed at the designated transfer station before it leaves the town.

But this argument misconceives the relevant article of commerce in the case.

As the town itself points out, what makes garbage a profitable enterprise is not its own worth but the fact that its possessor must pay to get rid of it.

In other words, the article of commerce is not so much the solid waste itself but rather the service of processing and disposing of it.

With respect to this stream of commerce, the flow control ordinance discriminates.

It allows only the favorite operator to process waste that is within the town limits.

It is just one more instance of local processing requirements that we have long held invalid.

The essential vice in laws of this sort is that they bar the import of the processing service, they horde a local resource for the benefit of local businesses that treat it.

The flow control ordinance has the same design and effect.

This sort of discrimination is per se invalid, save in the narrow class of cases in which the municipality can demonstrate under rigorous scrutiny that it has no other means to advance a legitimate local interest.

But here, Clarkstown has a number of non-discriminatorial alternatives for addressing the health and environmental problems alleged to justify the ordinance in question.

State and local governments may not use their regulatory power to favor local enterprise by prohibiting patronage of out of state competitors or their facilities.

Because the Town of Clarkstown has attempted to do so through the flow control ordinance in this case, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Division and remand the case for proceedings not inconsistent with this decision.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Justice O’Connor has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justice Blackmun join.