RESPONDENT: Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority et al.
LOCATION: United States District Court for the District of Colorado
DOCKET NO.: 05-1345
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
CITATION: 550 US 330 (2007)
GRANTED: Sep 26, 2006
ARGUED: Jan 08, 2007
DECIDED: Apr 30, 2007
Caitlin J. Halligan - argued the cause for Respondents
Evan Mark Tager - argued the cause for Petitioners
Michael J. Cahill - argued the cause for Respondents
Facts of the case
Oneida and Herkimer counties adopted a local "flow control" ordinance requiring locally-produced garbage to be delivered to local publicly-owned facilities. The United Haulers Association filed suit in federal district court, arguing that by prohibiting the export of waste and preventing waste haulers from using less expensive out-of-state facilities, the ordinance ran afoul of the dormant Commerce Clause. The Supreme Court has held that the Commerce Clause forbids any state law that regulates interstate commerce. The District Court ruled against United Haulers and held that the ordinance was constitutional because it did not discriminate against out-of-state businesses.
On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. The Court of Appeals ruled that even if the ordinance imposed a slight burden on interstate commerce, the effect was outweighed by the ordinance's local benefits.
Does an ordinance requiring delivery of all solid waste to a publicly owned local facility impose a substantial burden on interstate commerce and therefore violate the Commerce Clause?
Media for United Haulers Assocation, Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management AuthorityAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 08, 2007 in United Haulers Assocation, Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 30, 2007 in United Haulers Assocation, Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Finally, I have the opinion in case 05-1345, United Haulers Association versus Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority.
This is a case about garbage.
In the 1980s after serious environmental problems arose from existing methods of disposing of waste, Oneida and Herkimer counties in New York requested that the State create the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, a public benefit corporation.
The authority would manage all solid waste in the two counties.
The authority would charge tipping fees for trash disposal.
Tipping fees are just fees that dumps normally charge to people who leave garbage there so called, because the back of the dump truck tips when they deposit the garbage.
But if the tipping fees were not enough to cover the authorities cost, the counties agreed to make up the difference.
To avoid this liability, the counties enacted so called “flow control” ordinances that require trash haulers to deliver all waste generated within the counties to the authority’s facilities.
The haulers could not send the trash somewhere else for disposal even if that was cheaper.
Now petitioners, the trade association and individual trash haulers sued, alleging that the flow control ordinance has violated the Commerce Clause by discriminating against interstate commerce and they submitted evidence that they could dispose off solid waste at out of state facilities for far less than the authority charged.
The District Court ruled in favor of the haulers holding that nearly all Flow Control Laws had been categorically rejected in a 1994 decision of this Court called C & A Carbone, Incorporated versus Clarkstown.
But the Second Circuit reversed finding that the Carbone decision was distinguishable.
The Second Circuit’s decision conflicted with the recent ruling from the Sixth Circuit, so we granted review to sort out the mess.
The haulers argued that this case is just like our earlier decision in Carbone.
Carbone involved a flow control ordinance similar to the one it issued here.
It required that all solid waste within the town be deposited at a single private transfer facility upon the payment of an above market tipping fee.
We struck down that ordinance holding that it violated the Commerce Clause because it discriminated against interstate commerce by benefiting a preferred processing facility at the expense of all others.
The only real distinction between the laws it issued here and the ones struck down in Carbone is that the Carbone ordinance had benefited a private contractor whereas the Oneida-Herkimer ordinance, favor a public facility while treating all private facilities exactly the same.
We find that this distinction makes the difference.
Any notion of discrimination assumes a comparison of substantially similar entities.
In Carbone the distinction was between one favorite private entity and other private entities and we found that that constituted illegal discrimination for purposes of the Commerce Clause.
Here however, the distinction is between a government entity and all private entities.
Government entities are not the same as private businesses and laws favoring local government while treating all private entities a like are not discriminatory under the Commerce Clause.
The contrary approach of treating public and private entities the same under the Commerce Clause would lead to unprecedented and unbounded interference by the Courts with state and local government.
The County citizens could have left the entire manner of waste management services for the private sector in which case any regulation they undertook could not discriminate against interstate commerce.
But it was also open to them to vest responsibility for the matter with their government and to adopt flow control ordinances to support the government effort.
It is not the job of the federal courts under the guise of interpreting the Commerce Clause to pass judgment on whether the voters’ decision was or was not a good idea, that’s up to them.
The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is affirmed.
Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in part.
Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.