Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jerry Adkins v. Kenneth Will (VIM Recycling Inc)

May 3: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, Case No. 10-2237. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. The Appeals Court explains that the appeal presents questions regarding the citizen-suit provisions in the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), including when a narrower government enforcement lawsuit may preclude a broader citizen suit, and how the citizen-suit provisions interact with the federalism doctrines of Colorado River and Burford abstention. The district court in this case relied on statutory provisions and the abstention doctrines to dismiss the plaintiffs' citizen suit under RCRA. In a partially split decision, the Appeals Court reversed and remand which allows the plaintiffs to pursue their citizen suit. One justice indicated concurrence in part and dissented in part.
 
    The complicated legal action involves the relationships among three lawsuits: two state court actions filed by a state environmental agency and the Federal citizen suit. The majority concluded, "The plaintiffs' RCRA citizen suit should go forward, except as to the violation claims concerning 'C' grade waste that were part of the first IDEM [Indiana Department of Environmental Management] lawsuit against defendant VIM. In all other respects, the plaintiffs met the statutory requirements of RCRA. Because the plaintiffs satisfied the statutory requirements for bringing their citizen suit, abstention doctrines should not have been used to block the plaintiffs from pursuing the avenues that Congress gave them in RCRA. The district court's judgment dismissing the case is reversed and the action is remanded for further proceedings."
 
    Earlier in the decision the majority clarified that, "If IDEM should achieve comprehensive relief in its state court lawsuits, the federal judge will be entitled to press the citizen-plaintiffs as to what more they hope to accomplish in this suit. We emphasize, however, that the federal court in this case has a duty to press forward here. Congress has extended to these plaintiffs the right to pursue relief in a federal district court. The plaintiffs are not required to rely exclusively on the state agency in lawsuits in which they may only watch from the sidelines. The goal of RCRA is 'the prompt abatement of imminent and substantial endangerments,' and the district court has a duty not to allow progress toward that goal to be derailed or slowed because of possible delays in state proceedings."
 
    The dissenting Justice said, "I join the majority opinion on several issues, but I cannot agree with the majority's discussion and conclusion regarding abstention under Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). I therefore must respectfully dissent." The dissenting Justice indicated, "I concur with my colleagues on several issues." Then proceeded to outline at least four major areas of agreement and said, "Where I part company from my colleagues is with respect to their application of the Colorado River abstention doctrine. Even here, my disagreement is not total. Nevertheless, I view the position taken by my colleagues to be an overly rigid one, which, under the circumstances of this case, produces a result contrary to the overall intent of RCRA and a procedural straitjacket for district courts in future cases."

    Access the complete opinion and dissent (click here). [*Haz]

1 comment:

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