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United Haulers v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority

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Brief Fact Summary.

The private haulers challenged the county ordinance requiring that all solid waste generated within the Counties be delivered to the Authority’s processing sites.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Court will uphold a nondiscriminatory statute unless the burden imposed on interstate commerce is clearly excessive in relation to the putative local benefits.

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.

“Flow control” ordinances require trash haulers to deliver solid waste to a particular waste processing facility. The laws at issue require haulers to bring waste to facilities owned and operated by a state-created public benefit corporation. In 1989, the Counties entered into an agreement, under which the Authority agreed to manage all solid waste within the Counties. Private haulers would remain free to pick up citizens’ trash from the curb, but the Authority would take over the job of processing the trash, sorting it, and sending it off for disposal. The Counties enacted “flow control” ordinances requiring that all solid waste generated within the Counties be delivered to the Authority’s processing sites. Private haulers must obtain a permit from the Authority to collect waste in the Counties.

Issue.

Does the ordinance that requires haulers to bring waste to facilities owned and operated by a state-created public benefit corporation violate the Commerce Clause?

Held.

No, applying the Commerce Clause test reserved for regulations that do not discriminate against interstate commerce, this ordinance does not violate the Constitution because any incidental burden it may have on interstate commerce does not outweigh the benefits they confer on the citizens of Oneida and Herkimer Counties. The Counties’ flow control ordinances, which treat in-state private business interests exactly the same as out-of-state ones, do not discriminate against interstate commerce for purposes of the dormant Commerce Clause.

Concurrence.

Justice Thomas

There is no basis for the Court’s assumption that discrimination in favor of an in-state facility owned by the government is likely to serve legitimate goals unrelated to protectionism. By the same token, discrimination in favor of an in-state, privately owned facility may serve legitimate ends, such as the promotion of public health and safety. The laws at issue in this case serve legitimate goals, but offend the dormant Commerce Clause because those goals could be attained effectively through nondiscriminatory means. Moreover, the challenged legislation discriminates against interstate commerce and regardless of whether those harmed by it reside entirely outside the State, it still violates the Constitution. Thus, it makes no difference that the flow-control laws at issue apply to in-state and out-of-state businesses alike.

Discussion.

The flow control ordinances in this case benefit a clearly public facility, while treating all private companies exactly the same. Compelling reasons justify treating these laws differently from laws favoring particular private businesses over their competitors. Unlike private enterprise, government is vested with the responsibility of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. These important responsibilities set state and local government apart from a typical private business. The ordinances give the Counties a convenient and effective way to finance their integrated package of waste-disposal services. At the same time, the ordinances are more than financing tools. They increase recycling in at least two ways, conferring significant health and environmental benefits upon the citizens of the Counties. The Counties’ ordinances are exercises of the police power in an effort to address waste disposal, a typical and traditional concern of local government. Thus, the ordinances at issue do not violate the dormant Commerce Clause.


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