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Waste Management of Ohio, Inc. v. Dayton, City of

Citation: 28 ELR 20459
No. 96-3977, 132 F.3d 1142/(6th Cir., 12/23/1997)

The court holds that a district court has subject matter jurisdiction to determine whether a city, in light of its post-settlement actions, is estopped from refusing to approve a waste management company's construction of buildings on the south side of landfill property. A settlement agreement between the parties was incorporated into a consent decree that stated that buildings would be constructed on the landfill property's west side. The company claimed that the city breached the settlement agreement and consent decree when it seemingly approved but later rejected the company's relocation request. The district court held that it had subject matter jurisdiction to determine whether the consent decree and the settlement agreement permit the company to locate the buildings on the property's south side, but that it could not address the impact of any state-law claims in answering this question.

The court first holds that the consent decree clearly provides the district court with continued ancillary jurisdiction over the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement and the consent decree. The basic crux of the company's argument, that the consent decree should be modified in light of certain equitable considerations and that it needs clarification of its consent decree obligations, falls squarely within the district court's explicitly retained jurisdiction under the consent decree. That the company's claim invokes equitable principles does not change this observation. Equitable considerations are clearly factors a district court can address when they are related to a court's power and duty to modify, interpret, and oversee a consent decree. The court next holds that the fact that the developer initially attempted to obtain approval for the relocation by relying on a procedure provided for in the city zoning code is irrelevant to the issue of jurisdiction. There is no logical reason to prohibit the district court, when enforcing the consent decree, from dealing with a city ordinance. The court then holds that the district court has inherent subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute. Courts have a duty to enforce, interpret, modify, and terminate their consent decrees as required by circumstance. In accomplishing the goals of a consent decree, courts are not bound under all circumstances by the terms contained within the four corners of the parties' agreement. The district court has the inherent equitable power to modify a consent decree if it is satisfied that the decree has been turned through changing circumstances into an instrument of wrong. Whether the situation presented in the present case rises to the level where judicial modification is appropriate is a factual issue for the district court to decide, and, therefore, the court remands the case.

Counsel for Plaintiff
John W. Read
Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease
2100 One Cleveland Center
1375 E. 9th St., Cleveland OH 44114
(216) 479-6100

Counsel for Defendant
Shawn M. Blatt
Freund, Freeze & Arnold
One Dayton Center
One S. Main St., Ste. 1800, Dayton OH 45402
(937) 222-2424

Before Jones and Suhrheinrich, JJ.