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Judges split on District Court’s use of Colorado River abstention doctrine

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that a homeowners’ citizen suit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act against a solid waste dump should be allowed despite two similar suits pending in state court filed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. However, the court split when determining whether the District Court erred by dismissing the homeowners’ suit based on the Colorado River abstention doctrine.

IDEM filed a suit in state court in 2008 against VIM Recycling, which operates a solid waste dump in Elkhart, to enforce an agreed order with regard to VIM’s failure to remove its “C” grade waste at the dump. Several Elkhart homeowners tried to intervene in this suit and were denied, so they filed a federal suit under the RCRA challenging the disposal of all solid waste on the site and other claims. After this suit was properly filed, IDEM filed a second lawsuit in state court regarding the “B” grade waste disposal.

The District Court granted VIM’s motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit, ruling it didn’t have federal subject matter jurisdiction under the RCRA because IDEM was pursuing the same claims in state court. The District Court also claimed it should abstain from exercising jurisdiction over the RCRA claims under Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315 (1943), and Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976).

In Jerry Adkins, et al. v. Kenneth Will, et al., No. 10-2237, the judges agreed that the statutory bar against citizen suits in RCRA isn’t jurisdictional and that the first state action filed by IDEM doesn’t bar the plaintiffs’ claims under the “violations” provision of the RCRA. The second suit filed by IDEM after the plaintiffs filed their federal suit also doesn’t bar the plaintiffs’ claims. The judges agreed that the District Court abused its discretion in finding abstention under the Burford doctrine.

But with regards to abstention under the Colorado River doctrine, Judges Kenneth Ripple, David Hamilton and G. Patrick Murphy of the Southern District of Illinois, sitting by designation, were unable to agree as to whether the District Court abused its discretion by relying on that doctrine to dismiss the homeowners’ suit. Judges Hamilton and Murphy concluded the District Court’s use of this doctrine was unprecedented, as there has been no other case in any court in which a RCRA citizen suit that complied with the statutory requirements was nevertheless stayed or dismissed under Colorado River. This doctrine comes into play when parallel state court and federal court lawsuits are pending between the same parties, and the doctrine is a matter of judicial economy, wrote Judge Hamilton.

The majority believed the doctrine conflicted with congressional policy choices reflected in the RCRA itself and the decision to abstain stretched Colorado River abstention too far.  The federal and state actions weren’t actually parallel and there were no exceptional circumstances to justify abstention, wrote the judge.

Judge Ripple believed the doctrine could be used in this case based on the concurrent state and federal actions. He believed the simultaneous supervision of the remediation process by the state and federal courts would be a “recipe for delay, confusion and wasted judicial resources.” He noted it isn’t clear how any of the plaintiffs’ interests are impaired if the federal case is stayed, as a dismissal of the case is inappropriate because the plaintiffs met the statutory requirements to bring the federal suit.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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  1. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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