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, 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

  • State's Tidal Wetlands Could be Swamped by Rising Seas. https://t.co/hoCylgBVyN
    2 weeks ago
  • Scientist finds rare plant last seen in NJ 100 years ago. https://t.co/03jJRVd3cc
    1 month ago
  • NJ is the first state to regulate PFNAs in drinking water. https://t.co/huLEDnc444
    1 month ago
  • Nation's oldest nuclear power plant to shut down permanently Monday. https://t.co/LHSjcNvZVW
    1 month ago

Recent Blog Posts

NJ Supreme Court Sees Standing in Tax Lienholders to Challenge Municipal Approval

On August 2, 2018, New Jersey’s Supreme Court held that a holder of a municipal tax lien may have standing to challenge a local planning board’s approval for a neighboring
Read More
NJ Supreme Court Sees Standing in Tax Lienholders to Challenge Municipal Approval

The Downside to Higher Ground: Appellate Division affirms finding of a townhome owner’s negligence and responsibility for water damage to a below unit caused by a prolonged leaking washing machine hose

On August 1, 2018, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division ruled in favor of plaintiff in the matter captioned Joseph S. D’Elia v. Joyce Campisi and Liberty Mutual
Read More
The Downside to Higher Ground: Appellate Division affirms finding of a townhome owner’s negligence and responsibility for water damage to a below unit caused by a prolonged leaking washing machine hose

United States Supreme Court Tackles Key Clean Water Act Judicial Review Issue

National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, et al. 583 U.S. ____ (2018) Decided January 22, 2018 Since the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the definition of “the waters
Read More
United States Supreme Court Tackles Key Clean Water Act Judicial Review Issue

New Jersey Voters to Decide Important State Constitutional Amendment concerning the Environment

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, New Jersey voters will be asked to decide on a state constitutional amendment regarding the use of natural resource damages collected by the State in
Read More
New Jersey Voters to Decide Important State Constitutional Amendment  concerning the Environment

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

Quick Contact Form