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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. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  2. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  3. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

  4. Dear Fan, let me help you correct the title to your post. "ACLU is [Left] most of the time" will render it accurate. Just google it if you doubt that I am, err, "right" about this: "By the mid-1930s, Roger Nash Baldwin had carved out a well-established reputation as America’s foremost civil libertarian. He was, at the same time, one of the nation’s leading figures in left-of-center circles. Founder and long time director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Baldwin was a firm Popular Fronter who believed that forces on the left side of the political spectrum should unite to ward off the threat posed by right-wing aggressors and to advance progressive causes. Baldwin’s expansive civil liberties perspective, coupled with his determined belief in the need for sweeping socioeconomic change, sometimes resulted in contradictory and controversial pronouncements. That made him something of a lightning rod for those who painted the ACLU with a red brush." http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/biographies/roger-baldwin-2/ "[George Soros underwrites the ACLU' which It supports open borders, has rushed to the defense of suspected terrorists and their abettors, and appointed former New Left terrorist Bernardine Dohrn to its Advisory Board." http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1237 "The creation of non-profit law firms ushered in an era of progressive public interest firms modeled after already established like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") and the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") to advance progressive causes from the environmental protection to consumer advocacy." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cause_lawyering

  5. Mr. Foltz: Your comment that the ACLU is "one of the most wicked and evil organizations in existence today" clearly shows you have no real understanding of what the ACLU does for Americans. The fact that the state is paying out so much in legal fees to the ACLU is clear evidence the ACLU is doing something right, defending all of us from laws that are unconstitutional. The ACLU is the single largest advocacy group for the US Constitution. Every single citizen of the United States owes some level of debt to the ACLU for defending our rights.

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