Fort Gratiot Sanitary Landfill, Inc v. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, No. 91-636

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN
Citation119 L.Ed.2d 139,504 U.S. 353,112 S.Ct. 2019
PartiesFORT GRATIOT SANITARY LANDFILL, INC., Petitioner, v. MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, et al
Docket NumberNo. 91-636
Decision Date01 June 1992

112 S.Ct. 2019
504 U.S. 353
119 L.Ed.2d 139
FORT GRATIOT SANITARY LANDFILL, INC., Petitioner,

v.

MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, et al.

No. 91-636.
Argued March 30, 1992.
Decided June 1, 1992.
Syllabus

The Waste Import Restrictions of Michigan's Solid Waste Management Act (SWMA) provide that solid waste generated in another county, state, or country cannot be accepted for disposal unless explicitly authorized in the receiving county's plan. After St. Clair County, whose plan does not include such authorization, denied petitioner company's 1989 application for authority to accept out-of-state waste at its landfill, petitioner filed this action seeking a judgment declaring the Waste Import Restrictions invalid under the Commerce Clause and enjoining their enforcement. The District Court dismissed the complaint, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The latter court found no facial discrimination against interstate commerce because the statute does not treat out-of-county waste from Michigan any differently than waste from other States. The court also ruled that there was no actual discrimination because petitioner had not alleged that all Michigan counties ban out-of-state waste.

Held: The Waste Import Restrictions unambiguously discriminate against interstate commerce and are appropriately characterized as protectionist measures that cannot withstand Commerce Clause scrutiny. Pp. 358-368.

(a) Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U.S. 617, 626-627, 98 S.Ct. 2531, 2536-2537, 57 L.Ed.2d 475 provides the proper analytical framework and controls here. Under the reasoning of that case, Michigan's Waste Import Restrictions clearly discriminate against interstate commerce, since they authorize each county to isolate itself from the national economy and, indeed, afford local waste producers complete protection from competition from out-of-state producers seeking to use local disposal areas unless a county acts affirmatively to authorize such use. Pp. 358-361.

(b) This case cannot be distinguished from Philadelphia v. New Jersey on the ground, asserted by respondents, that the Waste Import Restrictions treat waste from other Michigan counties no differently than waste from other States and thus do not discriminate against interstate commerce on their face or in effect. This Court's cases teach that a State (or one of its political subdivisions) may not avoid the Commerce

Page 354

Clause's strictures by curtailing the movement of articles of commerce through subdivisions of the State, rather than through the State itself. See, e.g., Brimmer v. Rebman, 138 U.S. 78, 82-83, 11 S.Ct. 213, 214-215, 34 L.Ed. 862. Nor does the fact that the Michigan statute allows individual counties to accept solid waste from out of state qualify its discriminatory character. Pp. 361-363.

(c) Also rejected is respondents' argument that this case is different from Philadelphia v. New Jersey because the SWMA constitutes a comprehensive health and safety regulation rather than "economic protectionism" of the State's limited landfill capacity. Even assuming that other provisions of the SWMA could fairly be so characterized, the same assumption cannot be made with respect to the Waste Import Restrictions themselves. Because those provisions unambiguously discriminate against interstate commerce, the State bears the burden of proving that they further health and safety concerns that cannot be adequately served by nondiscriminatory alternatives. Respondents have not met this burden, since they have provided no valid health and safety reason for limiting the amount of waste that a landfill operator may accept from outside the State, but not the amount the operator may accept from inside the State. Pp. 363-368.

931 F.2d 413, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined.

Harold B. Finn, III, Stamford, Conn., for petitioner.

Thomas L. Casey, Lansing, Mich., for respondents.

Page 355

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U.S. 617, 618, 98 S.Ct. 2531, 2532, 57 L.Ed.2d 475 (1978), we held that a New Jersey law prohibiting the importation of most " 'solid or liquid waste which originated or was collected outside the territorial limits of the State' " violated the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. In this case petitioner challenges a Michigan law that prohibits private landfill operators from accepting solid waste that originates outside the county in which their facilities are located. Adhering to our holding in the New Jersey case, we conclude that this Michigan statute is also unconstitutional.

I

In 1978 Michigan enacted its Solid Waste Management Act 1 (SWMA). That Act required every Michigan county to estimate the amount of solid waste that would be generated in the county in the next 20 years and to adopt a plan providing for its disposal at facilities that comply with state health standards. Mich.Comp.Laws Ann. § 299.425 (Supp.1991).

Page 356

After holding public hearings and obtaining the necessary approval of municipalities in the county, as well as the approval of the Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the County Board of Commissioners adopted a solid waste management plan for St. Clair County. In 1987 the Michigan Department of Natural Resources issued a permit to petitioner to operate a sanitary landfill as a solid waste 2 disposal area in St. Clair County. See Bill Kettlewell Excavating, Inc. v. Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, 931 F.2d 413, 414 (CA6 1991).

On December 28, 1988, the Michigan Legislature amended the SWMA by adopting two provisions concerning the "acceptance of waste or ash generated outside the county of disposal area," see 1988 Mich.Pub.Acts, No. 475, § 1, codified as amended, Mich.Comp.Laws Ann. §§ 299.413a, 299.430(2)

Page 357

(Supp.1991). Those amendments (Waste Import Restrictions), which became effective immediately, provide:

"A person shall not accept for disposal solid waste . . . that is not generated in the county in which the disposal area is located unless the acceptance of solid waste . . . that is not generated in the county is explicitly authorized in the approved county solid waste management plan." § 299.413a.

"In order for a disposal area to serve the disposal needs of another county, state, or country, the service . . . must be explicitly authorized in the approved solid waste management plan of the receiving county." § 299.430(2).

In February, 1989, petitioner submitted an application to the St. Clair County Solid Waste Planning Committee for authority to accept up to 1,750 tons per day of out-of-state waste at its landfill. See Bill Kettlewell Excavating, Inc. v. Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, 732 F.Supp. 761, 762 (ED Mich.1990). In that application petitioner promised to reserve sufficient capacity to dispose of all solid waste generated in the county in the next 20 years. The planning committee denied the application. Ibid. In view of the fact that the county's management plan does not authorize the acceptance of any out-of-county waste, the Waste Import Restrictions in the 1988 statute effectively prevent petitioner from receiving any solid waste that does not originate in St. Clair County.

Petitioner therefore commenced this action seeking a judgment declaring the Waste Import Restrictions unconstitutional and enjoining their enforcement. Petitioner contended that requiring a private landfill operator to limit its business to the acceptance of local waste constituted impermissible discrimination against interstate commerce. The District Court denied petitioner's motion for summary judgment, however, 732 F.Supp., at 766, and subsequently dismissed the complaint, App. 4. The court first concluded that the statute

Page 358

does not discriminate against interstate commerce "on its face" because the import restrictions apply "equally to Michigan counties outside of the county adopting the plan as well as to out-of-state entities." 732 F.Supp., at 764. It also concluded that there was no discrimination "in practical effect" because each county was given discretion to accept out-of-state waste. Ibid. Moreover, the incidental effect on interstate commerce was "not clearly excessive in relation to the [public health and environmental] benefits derived by Michigan from the statute." Id., at 765.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed with the District Court's analysis. Although it recognized that the statute "places in-county and out-of-county waste in separate categories," the Court of Appeals found no discrimination against interstate commerce because the statute "does not treat out-of-county waste from Michigan any differently than waste from other states." 931 F.2d, at 417. It also agreed that there was no actual discrimination because petitioner had not alleged that all counties in Michigan ban out-of-state waste. Id., at 418. Accordingly, it affirmed the judgment of the District Court. Ibid. We granted certiorari, 502 U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 857, 116 L.Ed.2d 765 (1992), because of concern that the decision below was inconsistent with Philadelphia v. New Jersey, and now reverse.

II

Before discussing the rather narrow issue that is contested, it is appropriate to identify certain matters that are not in dispute. Michigan's comprehensive program of regulating the collection, transportation, and disposal of solid waste, as it was enacted in 1978 and administered prior to the 1988 Waste Import Restrictions, is not challenged. No issue relating to hazardous waste is presented, and there is no claim that petitioner's operation violated any health, safety, or sanitation requirement. Nor does the case raise any question concerning policies that municipalities or other governmental...

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