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American Marine Rail NJ, LLC v. The City of Bayonne

289 F. Supp.2d 569 (D. N.J. 2003)

LEASES; SOLID WASTE—A tenant who leases a facility for the purpose of processing solid waste may not be denied entry into a county’s solid waste management plan just because the tenant does not intend to handle waste generated in the county.

A tenant entered into a lease with a municipality for a certain parcel of property for use as a rail-transfer station. The tenant’s intent in entering into the lease was to win a contract bid with an out-of-state municipality to accept the municipality’s solid waste. The tenant claimed that various governmental units and officials violated the Commerce Clause when the county’s improvement authority did not include the tenant’s project in the county’s solid waste management plan. In order to prove a violation of the dormant Commerce Clause, the tenant needed to show that, on its face, the actions of the county and its agency in rejecting the tenant’s application for inclusion in the solid waste management plan discriminated against out-of-state interests or that there was a discriminatory purpose in rejecting the application. If a court determines that there was a discriminatory purpose in denying the application, the municipality and county would be required to show that it had no other means to advance legitimate local interests without such discrimination. If the court were to find no discriminatory purpose, the action might still be unconstitutional if its burden on interstate commerce is “clearly excessive in relation to its putative local interests.” In this case, the county argued that under its guidelines, as permitted by the Solid Waste Management Act, it could consider whether or not the tenant’s facility was intended to receive, or was capable of receiving, solid waste generated by the county. The county argued that, since the tenant intended to use the facility solely for out-of-state refuse, the tenant’s application did not meet the standard for approval. The Court noted that the statute relied on by the county merely stated that each county in the state was responsible for developing a solid waste management plan to meet the needs of each municipality within the county. It also noted that the statute did not permit the county to reject the application just because the tenant’s waste transfer facility was not intended to accommodate county generated garbage. It found that a reasonable fact finder could find that the county’s denial of the application was protectionist in violation of the Commerce Clause. If a fact finder believed there was a discriminatory intent, the county would be required to prove, under a rigorous scrutiny test, that there were no other legitimate means to advance local interests other then rejecting the tenant’s application. The Court noted that, while the county claimed there were legitimate environmental concerns that motivated its decision to deny the application, it could have issued a conditional approval, or renounced the protectionist rhetoric in its resolution denying the application.

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