Search Site
Menu
Third Circuit Finds Jurisdiction Over RCRA Claims is Exclusively Federal

On August 6, 2013, a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the federal district courts hold exclusive jurisdiction over Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) claims. In Litgo New Jersey, Inc. v. Commissioner New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, __ F.3d __ (3d Cir. 2013), the Third Circuit reviewed a District Court’s decision allocating responsibility and clean-up costs for a contaminated site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act (Spill Act), and RCRA. While the court’s discussion of CERCLA and the Spill Act confirmed prior interpretations, the court’s holding concerning the RCRA created new precedent in the Third Circuit.

Under RCRA, a “citizen suit” can be brought against an individual or organization that is contributing or has contributed to the handling or disposing of waste, which “may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.” 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B). RCRA further states that any action against alleged polluters “shall be brought in the district court for the district in which the alleged violation occurred or the alleged endangerment may occur.” 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a) (emphasis added). RCRA also authorizes suits against the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in certain situations. Such an action “may be brought in the district court for the district in which the alleged violation occurred or in the District Court of the District of Columbia.” 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a).

The District Court sitting in the District of New Jersey held that under the New Jersey entire controversy doctrine, which requires that all related claims be brought in a single action, a RCRA claim is barred in federal court when it is not raised in an earlier state court proceeding concerning the subject contamination. On appeal, the Third Circuit disagreed with the District Court’s ruling and held that RCRA granted exclusive jurisdiction to the federal district courts. Thus, the New Jersey entire controversy doctrine does not apply and a RCRA claim can be brought in federal court even if it was omitted in a prior state court case.

In reaching its decision, the Third Circuit looked to the language of the statute and found that, because Congress instructed that claims “shall be brought in the District Court,” the claimants had no choice but to do so. Correspondingly, RCRA claims could not be brought in state court. In the majority opinion, the Court reasoned that the usual presumption in favor of concurrent state court jurisdiction is rebutted when Congress clearly intends for federal courts to have exclusive jurisdiction, as it did in RCRA. The Court distinguished the Supreme Court’s holding in Yellow Freight, in which the court analyzed similar language under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to allow concurrent jurisdiction. See Yellow Freight Systems, Inc. v. Donnelly, 494 U.S. at 820; see also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) (“Each United States district court and each United States court of a place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States shall have jurisdiction of actions brought under this subchapter.”). In that instance, the court found that, under Title VII, Congress merely granted authority to federal courts to hear claims and did not oust state courts from hearing claims of this nature. Conversely, under RCRA, Congress vested exclusive authority to hear RCRA to the federal district courts.

The dissenting judges in Litgo argued that the United States Supreme Court has found dual jurisdiction between state and federal courts in RCRA claims and that the majority’s position contravened those prior holdings.

The attorneys at Lieberman Blecher & Sinkevich P.C., who regularly assist clients with environmental issues that arise in the context of contamination under the Spill Act, CERCLA and RCRA, will be closely following the developments in this area of the law. Our attorneys, who are highly experienced in environmental litigation and remediation issues, have assisted many clients in cases involving RCRA and our attorneys are poised to address the impact of this recent decision in present and future cases.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our Attorneys

Recent Twitter Posts

  • Contaminant May Have Leaked into Aquifer at Site of Planned LNG Terminal in Gibbstown. https://t.co/Q1yObrGP5J
    5 days ago
  • Lawmakers move to extend permits for projects derailed by COVID-19. https://t.co/9xw8O2tB1W
    2 weeks ago
  • Governor Murphy signs executive order relaxing deadlines for issuing environmental permits during the COVID-19 pand… https://t.co/d1GD05v82Y
    2 weeks ago
  • New Jersey and coalition of states file lawsuit to block EPA's "Navigable Waters Protection Rule." https://t.co/VOS7HkKCeu
    3 weeks ago

Recent Blog Posts

EPA ROLES BACK FEDERAL WETLANDS PROTECTIONS – AND GETS SUED FOR DOING SO

This past January, the federal government rolled back its protections of wetlands authorized under the United States Clean Water Act. The “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” effective on June 22, 2020,
Read More
EPA ROLES BACK FEDERAL WETLANDS PROTECTIONS – AND GETS SUED FOR DOING SO

Our Drinking Water and Water Bodies Prevailed in The Maui decision

When most of us think of Maui, we envision great weather, lush vegetation, tiki bars and beaches. The very last thing that comes to mind are sewer plants and the
Read More
Our Drinking Water and Water Bodies Prevailed in The Maui decision

Published Reports Claims EPA is Hiding True Lead Levels in Drinking Water

APM Reports (from American Public Media) has just released a report on May 4, 2020 that raises some critical questions not only about the quality of the water we are
Read More
Published Reports Claims EPA is Hiding True Lead Levels in Drinking Water

Toxic Mercury in Gym Flooring Used by Our Children

We have a giant mercury exposure problem in our New Jersey schools. Rubberized flooring found in school gyms cracks over time. And some, not all of the flooring products have
Read More
Toxic Mercury in Gym Flooring Used by Our Children

In the media

  • Gulf Coast Town Center facing foreclosure

    Naples Daily News, September 16, 2015

    Wells Fargo filed a lawsuit Sept. 8 against an affiliate of CBL & Associates, the owners of the decadeold, 1.2 million-square-foot mall in south Fort Myers for a $190.9 million unpaid loan. The center has 94 stores on 204 acres, with such anchors as Super Target, Belk, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshalls and Costco...

    Read More
  • Town liable for private company's leaking underground tanks, court rules

    NJ.com Jul 26, 2017

    CRANFORD -- A couple that owned a businesses in town and became sick from leaking underground tanks owned by an adjacent business can sue the township for damages because the tanks were partially ...

    Read More
  • Dark Waters: How a Class Action Catapulted NJ to Forefront of 'Forever Chemicals' Battle

    NJ Law Journal Jan 09, 2020

    As property owners become increasingly aware of PFAS contamination, and as individuals exposed to PFAS learn of the health risks associated with exposure, liability will likely affect entire supply chains.

    Read More
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
Contact Our Firm

Quick Contact Form