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Pennsylvania Fed'n of Sportsmen's Clubs v. Hess

Citation: 32 ELR 20809
No. Nos. 00-2139, 01-1683, 297 F.3d 310/(3d Cir., 07/24/2002)

The court holds that the Eleventh Amendment bars all but two claims brought by citizen groups in federal court against a state official accused of failing to implement, administer, enforce, and maintain a federally approved state coal mining program under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The court first holds that the citizen groups' claims that the official failed to perform various nondiscretionary duties regarding the state's reclamation bonding program fall outside the Ex parte Young exception to the Eleventh Amendment. The Eleventh Amendment prohibits a federal court from considering a claim that a state official violated state law in carrying out his or her official responsibilities. Here, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) approved the state's coal mining program and its bonding system. As such, jurisdiction for the administration and enforcement of the program passed on to the state. Whether, in practice, the state program meets the minimum standards set forth in SMCRA is a matter for the federal oversight body—the OSM—to decide, not for the federal courts. The court next holds that the groups incorrectly argued that the state program was incorporated into federal law through its codification in the Code of Federal Regulations. Nothing in SMCRA explicitly or implicitly incorporates state law into federal law or directs the OSM to do so, and the Code of Federal Regulations section reserved for the state program does not set forth any portion of the state's OSM-approved regulations and statutes. Even if the OSM had the authority under SMCRA or the U.S. Constitution to transform state law into federal law, which it does not, simply referring to a state statute or regulation in the Code of Federal Regulations does not invest it with federal authority. The court further holds that the state official does not have a federally imposed duty to implement specific state provisions that trigger the Ex parte Young exception. The court finally holds, however, that two of the citizen groups' claims that allege that the state official failed to submit certain required information to the OSM are based purely on federal law and, thus, are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

Counsel for Plaintiff
John T. Stahr
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Defendant
Dennis Whitaker
Department of Environmental Protection
909 Elmerton Ave., 3d Fl., Harrisburg PA 17110
(717) 783-2300

Barry, J. Before McKee and Alarcon, * JJ.

* The Honorable Arthur L. Alarcon, Senior Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting by designation.