Medina County Courthouse

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ohio Supreme Court Rules that EPA Director Not "Necessary Party" to Local Waste Rule Challenge

009-0211. Natl. Solid Wastes Mgt. Assn. v. Stark-Tuscarawas-Wayne Joint Solid Waste Mgt. Dist., Slip Opinion No. 2009-Ohio-6765.
Stark App. No. 2008CA00011, 2008-Ohio-6585. Judgment reversed and cause remanded.
Moyer, C.J., and Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor, O'Donnell, Lanzinger, and Cupp, JJ., concur.

(Dec. 30, 2009) The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that the Director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is not a “necessary party” who must be joined in a suit challenging the validity of rules adopted by a local solid-waste management authority. Based on that decision, the Court remanded a Stark County suit challenging a local waste management rule that had been dismissed by the 5th District Court of Appeals on procedural grounds back to that court for a ruling on the merits.

The court’s unanimous decision was authored by Justice Terrence O’Donnell.

The case involved a dispute between the owners of three private landfills located in Stark and Tuscarawas counties and the joint solid waste management district serving Stark, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties, referred to as the STW District. The landfill operators are represented in the case by a national trade association of which they are members, the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA).

In 1988, local waste management districts were created and required to develop plans for the disposal of solid wastes within their service areas. Districts were given authority to develop and enforce local rules necessary to implement their respective waste management plans, and were specifically authorized to adopt rules reserving local landfill space exclusively for in-district waste if that action was necessary to preserve capacity to meet projected local needs.

In 1993, the director of the OEPA approved the STW District’s original plan. In 1999, when the district filed an amended waste-management plan, the director disapproved it, and in 2004 the director notified the district of his intention to prepare an amended plan on its behalf. The district subsequently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the director in which it was agreed that the district could adopt local rules prior to Nov.30, 2006, the date by which an amended plan would be issued by the director. In November 2006, the district adopted four local rules, including a recycling rule specifying that after Jan. 1, 2008, landfills within the district would no longer be permitted to accept waste from outside the district unless the originating district met or exceeded the STW District’s recycling standards.

On Dec. 13, 2006, acting on behalf of its member landfill operators, the NSWMA filed a complaint against the STW District in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas seeking a declaration that the district’s new recycling rule exceeded its statutory authority and was therefore void and unenforceable. The district counterclaimed for a declaration that its recycling rule is valid. In December 2007 the trial court ruled that the new rules were valid and enforceable, but held that it would be impossible for the affected landfills to implement the recycling rule on Jan.1, 2008, and so ordered a delay in the effective date of that rule until July 1, 2008.

NSWMA appealed the trial court’s decision. On review, the 5th District Court of Appeals did not reach the merits of the trial court’s ruling but rather held that, because the current waste management plan in place for the STW District was the alternative plan developed by OEPA, the director of OEPA was an “indispensable party” to any lawsuit seeking to bar enforcement of the district’s local rules. Because NSWMA’s complaint had not joined the OEPA director as a party in the case, the court of appeals ruled that the trial court had acted without jurisdiction in hearing the case, and remanded it to the common pleas court with instructions to dismiss the association’s complaint as defective.

NSWMA sought and was granted Supreme Court review of the 5th District’s ruling. In today’s unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rejected the 5th District’s finding that the OEPA director must be joined as a party in order for NSWMA’s challenge to the local waste disposal rule to be justiciable. Justice O’Donnell wrote: “R.C. 3734.02 provides: ‘(A) The director of environmental protection, in accordance with Chapter 119 of the Revised Code, shall adopt and may amend, suspend, or rescind rules having uniform application throughout the state governing solid waste facilities.’ ... This statute vests the director with the power to enforce rules having uniform application throughout the state, making him a necessary party to an action challenging such rules. However, the rules at issue in this case are the STW District’s local rules – rules adopted by the STW District rather than by the director and thus, by definition, not uniformly applicable throughout the state.”

“R.C. 343.01(G) provides that the power to enforce local rules rests with the board of county commissioners of a county district or board of directors of a joint district: ‘[T]he board ... may adopt, publish, and enforce rules ... (1) [p]rohibiting or limiting the receipt of solid wastes generated outside the district ... at facilities located within the solid waste management district.’ This subsection specifies that the director may modify a local rule if six conditions set forth in divisions (G)(1)(a) through (f) apply, but it does not grant him the express power to enforce a local rule. Thus, neither R.C. 3734.02 nor R.C. 343.01(G) grants the director of the OEPA the power to enforce the STW District’s local rules; accordingly, the director is not a necessary party to an action challenging the enforcement of those rules. Therefore, the director’s absence from the action does not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction to render a decision.”

Justice O’Donnell noted that because the 5th District had remanded the case for dismissal based on its erroneous finding that the OEPA director was a necessary party, the court of appeals “has not yet considered the assignments of error presented by the parties regarding the validity and enforcement of the STW District rules. Accordingly, we remand this matter for further consideration.”

Terrence M. Fay, 614.469.3259, for National Solid Wastes Management Association.

Thomas W. Connors, 330.456.8341, for the Stark-Tuscarawas-Wayne Joint Solid Waste Mgt. District.

Kathleen M. Trafford, 614.227.1915, for Columbia Gas of Ohio.

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