511 U.S. 383 (1994), 92-1402, C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Town of Clarkstown

Docket Nº:No. 92-1402
Citation:511 U.S. 383, 114 S.Ct. 1677, 128 L.Ed.2d 399, 62 U.S.L.W. 4315
Case Date:May 16, 1994
Court:United States Supreme Court

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511 U.S. 383 (1994)

114 S.Ct. 1677, 128 L.Ed.2d 399, 62 U.S.L.W. 4315

C & A CARBONE, INC., et al.



No. 92-1402

United States Supreme Court

May 16, 1994

Argued December 7, 1993



Respondent town agreed to allow a private contractor to construct within town limits a solid waste transfer station to separate recyclable from nonrecyclable items and to operate the facility for five years, at which time the town would buy it for one dollar. To finance the transfer station's cost, the town guaranteed a minimum waste flow to the facility, for which the contractor could charge the hauler a tipping fee which exceeded the disposal cost of unsorted solid waste on the private market. In order to meet the waste flow guarantee, the town adopted a flow control ordinance, requiring all nonhazardous solid waste within the town to be deposited at the transfer station. While recyclers like petitioners (collectively Carbone) may receive solid waste at their own sorting facilities, the ordinance requires them to bring nonrecyclable residue to the transfer station, thus forbidding them to ship such waste themselves and requiring them to pay the tipping fee on trash that has already been sorted. After discovering that Carbone was shipping nonrecyclable waste to out-of-state destinations, the town filed suit in state court, seeking an injunction requiring that this residue be shipped to the transfer station. The court granted summary judgment to the town, finding the ordinance constitutional, and the Appellate Division affirmed.


The flow control ordinance violates the Commerce Clause. Pp. 389-395.

(a) The ordinance regulates interstate commerce. While its immediate effect is to direct local transport of solid waste to a designated site within the local jurisdiction, its economic effects are interstate in reach. By requiring Carbone to send the nonrecyclable portion of waste it receives from out of State to the transfer station at an additional cost, the ordinance drives up the cost for out-of-state interests to dispose of their solid waste. It also deprives out-of-state businesses of access to the local market, by preventing everyone except the favored local operator from performing the initial processing step. P. 389.

(b) The ordinance discriminates against interstate commerce, and thus is invalid. See Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U.S. 617, 624. Although the ordinance erects no barrier to the import or export of any

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solid waste, the article of commerce here is not so much the waste itself, but rather the service of processing and disposing of it. With respect to this stream of commerce, the ordinance discriminates, for it allows only the favored operator to process waste that is within the town's limits. It is no less discriminatory because in-state or in-town processors are also covered by the prohibition. Cf., e. g., Dean Milk Co. v. Madison, 340 U.S. 349. Favoring a single local proprietor makes the ordinance's protectionist effect even more acute, for it squelches competition in the waste-processing service altogether, leaving no room for outside investment. Pp. 389-392.

(c) The town does not lack other means to advance a legitimate local interest. It could address alleged health and safety problems through nondiscriminatory alternatives, such as uniform safety regulations that would ensure that competitors do not underprice the market by cutting corners on environmental safety. Justifying the ordinance as a way to steer solid waste away from out-of-town disposal sites that the town might deem harmful to the environment would extend its police power beyond its jurisdictional boundaries. Moreover, the ordinance's revenue generating purpose by itself is not a local interest that can justify discrimination against interstate commerce. If special financing is needed to ensure the transfer station's long-term survival, the town may subsidize the facility through general taxes or municipal bonds, but it may not employ discriminatory regulation to give the project an advantage over rival out-of-state businesses. Pp. 392-395.

182 A.D. 2d 213, 587 N.Y.S.2d 681, reversed and remanded.

Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Stevens, Scalia, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. O'Connor, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 401. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Blackmun, J., joined, post, p. 410.

Betty Jo Christian argued the cause for petitioners. With her on the briefs were Paul J. Ondrasik, Jr., David Silverman, Kenneth Resnik, and Charles G. Cole.

William C. Brashares argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Murray N. Jacobson and Richard A. Glickel.[*]

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Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.

As solid waste output continues apace and landfill capacity becomes more costly and scarce, state and local governments

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are expending significant resources to develop trash control systems that are efficient, lawful, and protective of the environment. The difficulty of their task is evident from the number of recent cases that we have heard involving waste transfer and treatment. See Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U.S. 617 (1978); Chemical Waste Management, Inc. v. Hunt, 504 U.S. 334 (1992); Fort Gratiot Sanitary Landfill, Inc. v. Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, 504 U.S. 353 (1992); Oregon Waste Systems, Inc. v. Department of Environmental Quality of Ore., ante, p. 93. The case decided today, while perhaps a small new chapter in that course of decisions, rests nevertheless upon well-settled principles of our Commerce Clause jurisprudence.

We consider a so-called flow control ordinance, which requires all solid waste to be processed at a designated transfer station before leaving the municipality. The avowed purpose of the ordinance is to retain the processing fees charged at the transfer station to amortize the cost of the facility. Because it attains this goal by depriving competitors, including out-of-state firms, of access to a local market, we hold that the flow control ordinance violates the Commerce Clause.

The town of Clarkstown, New York, lies in the lower Hudson River Valley, just upstream from the Tappan Zee Bridge and by highway minutes from New Jersey. Within the town limits are the village of Nyack and the hamlet of West Nyack. In August 1989, Clarkstown entered into a consent

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decree with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The town agreed to close its landfill located on Route 303 in West Nyack and build a new solid waste transfer station on the same site. The station would receive bulk solid waste and separate recyclable from nonrecyclable items. Recyclable waste would be baled for shipment to a recycling facility; nonrecyclable waste, to a suitable landfill or incinerator.

The cost of building the transfer station was estimated at $1.4 million. A local private contractor agreed to construct the facility and operate it for five years, after which the town would buy it for $1. During those five years, the town guaranteed a minimum waste flow of 120,000 tons per year, for which the contractor could charge the hauler a so-called tipping fee of $81 per ton. If the station received less than 120,000 tons in a year, the town promised to make up the tipping fee deficit. The object of this arrangement was to amortize the cost of the transfer station: The town would finance its new facility with the income generated by the tipping fees.

The problem, of course, was how to meet the yearly guarantee. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that the tipping fee of $81 per ton exceeded the disposal cost of unsorted solid waste on the private market. The solution the town adopted was the flow control ordinance here in question, Local Laws 1990, No. 9 of the Town of Clarkstown (full text in Appendix). The ordinance requires all nonhazardous solid waste within the town to be deposited at the Route 303 transfer station. Id., § 3.C (waste generated within the town), § 5.A (waste generated outside and brought in). Non-compliance is punishable by as much as a $1,000 fine and up to 15 days in jail. § 7.

The petitioners in this case are C & A Carbone, Inc., a company engaged in the processing of solid waste, and various related companies or persons, all of whom we designate Carbone. Carbone operates a recycling center in Clarkstown,

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where it receives bulk solid waste, sorts and bales it, and then ships it to other processing facilities—much as occurs at the town's new transfer station. While the flow control ordinance permits recyclers like Carbone to continue receiving solid waste, § 3.C, it requires them to bring the nonrecyclable residue from that waste to the Route 303 station. It thus forbids Carbone to ship the nonrecyclable waste itself, and it requires Carbone to pay a tipping fee on trash that Carbone has already sorted.

In March 1991, a tractor-trailer containing 23 bales of solid waste struck an overpass on the Palisades Interstate Parkway. When the police investigated the accident, they discovered the truck was carrying household waste from Carbone's Clarkstown plant to an Indiana landfill. The Clarkstown police put Carbone's plant under surveillance and in the next few days seized six more tractor-trailers leaving the facility. The trucks also contained nonrecyclable waste, originating both within and without the town, and destined for disposal sites in Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, and Florida.

The town of Clarkstown sued Carbone in New York Supreme Court, Rockland County, seeking an injunction requiring Carbone to ship all nonrecyclable waste to the Route 303 transfer station. Carbone responded by suing in United...

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