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United Trash Haulers Ass’n v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Auth.

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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff claimed that county ordinances requiring all solid wastes and recyclables generated within Oneida and Herkimer counties to be delivered to one of several waste processing facilities owned by the Defendant violated the Dormant Commerce Clauses.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

State regulations that favor governmental entities over private entities are constitutional, so long as they do not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Whatever the state's ultimate purpose, it may not be accomplished by discriminating against articles of commerce coming from outside the State unless there is some reason, apart from their origin, to treat them differently.

View Full Point of Law
Facts.

In response to local landfills being overrun by criminals, causing environmental damage, and costing the public tens of millions of dollars, the State of New York created the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority (Defendant) and authorized Oneida County and Herkimer County (the Counties) to impose appropriate and reasonable limitations on competition. As such, the Counties enacted “flow control” ordinances requiring that all solid waste collected within the Counties be delivered to the Defendant. Plaintiff sued, alleging that the flow control ordinance violated the Dormant Commerce Clause by discriminating against interstate commerce.

Issue.

Does an ordinance requiring delivery of all solid waste to a publicly owned and operated local facility impose discriminate against interstate commerce?

Held.

No, an ordinance requiring delivery of all solid waste to a publicly owned and operated local facility does not discriminate against interstate commerce.

Dissent.

Justice Alito

These laws discriminate against interstate commerce (generally favoring local interests over nonlocal interests), but are defended on the ground that they serve legitimate goals unrelated to protectionism (e.g., health, safety, and protection of the environment). While the laws at issue here may serve legitimate goals, the laws offend the Dormant Commerce Clause because those goals could be attained effectively through nondiscriminatory means. Additionally, the public-private distinction drawn by the Court is illusory and without precedent.

Concurrence.

Justice Scalia

The Dormant Commerce Clause is an unjustified judicial invention, not to be expanded beyond its existing domain.

Justice Thomas

The Dormant Commerce Clause has no basis in the Constitution and has proved unworkable in practice. Application of the negative Commerce Clause turns solely on policy considerations, rather than the Constitution.

Discussion.

The flow control ordinances here benefit a public facility, while treating all private companies the same. Compelling reasons justify treating these laws differently from laws favoring particular private business over their competitors. Unlike private enterprise, government is vested with the responsibility of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. When a law favors in-state business over out-of-state competition, rigorous scrutiny is appropriate because the law is often the product of simple economic protectionism. Laws favoring local government, by contrast, may be directed toward any number of legitimate goals unrelated to protectionism.


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