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

  • Another effort to make the Delaware Water Gap a national park is underway. https://t.co/C00NZ43nZU
    2 days ago
  • New Jersey seeks designation of Lower Hackensack River as a federal Superfund site. https://t.co/czOI3hDNb2
    2 days ago
  • New report finds that significant offshore wind capacity exists along the Atlantic coast. https://t.co/EQG8d5VMw2
    4 months ago
  • The Murphy Administration plans to spend $200 million on wind port. https://t.co/Se09U5ZHvy
    5 months ago

Recent Blog Posts

EPA plans to increase criminal enforcement of environmental laws as part of environmental justice efforts

Many of the U.S.’s environmental statutes, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, contain criminal enforcement measures. These criminal enforcement measures range from significant fines to
Read More
EPA plans to increase criminal enforcement of environmental laws as part of environmental justice efforts

States file petition in U.S. Supreme Court over EPA’s Clean Air Act regulations

On June 18, 2021, twenty (20) states along with additional supporters filed a request for appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that has the potential to affect States’ rights to
Read More
States file petition in U.S. Supreme Court over EPA’s Clean Air Act regulations

EPA announces next step of clean-up plan at Superfund site in Burlington County

The Cinnaminson Groundwater Contamination Superfund Site spans 400 acres and straddles the border of Cinnaminson and Delran in Burlington County. “Superfund sites,” such as this one, are designated by the
Read More
EPA announces next step of clean-up plan at Superfund site in Burlington County

Police Departments’ Arrest Records are Public Records Subject to Public Disclosure, Supreme Court Says

Even if the judiciary creates the forms and stores them once completed, arrest records are still police records subject to public disclosure under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), the
Read More
Police Departments’ Arrest Records are Public Records Subject to Public Disclosure, Supreme Court Says

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