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Potomac Elec. Power Co. v. Sachs

Citation: 17 ELR 20153
No. Nos. 86-1572, -1573, 802 F.2d 1527/25 ERC 1215/(4th Cir., 10/17/1986) Rev'd & remanded

The court holds that a district court should have abstained from hearing a declaratory judgment action, in which a utility company involved in the disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls sought a determination that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) preempted Maryland's hazardous waste laws, where the state had already initiated criminal grand jury proceedings to investigate illegal disposal by the company. The district court had ruled in favor of the state, 16 ELR 20651, holding that TSCA did not preempt Maryland's hazardous waste laws and regulations. The appellate court holds that the federal abstention doctrine, as articulated by Younger v. Harris, applies to the state grand jury proceedings in this case. The grand jury proceeding is a quasi-judicial action to which the abstention doctrine's principles of comity and federalism apply with at least as much force as they do to the state administrative, civil, and quasi-criminal proceedings involved in past Supreme Court cases in which the doctrine was held applicable. Moreover, if indicted, plaintiff will have an opportunity to present its federal preemption claim as a defense to the criminal proceeding.

Counsel for Appellant/Cross Appellee
Arnold M. Weiner
Melnicove, Kaufman, Weiner & Smouse
36 S. Charles St., Baltimore MD 21201-3060
(301) 332-8500

Counsel for Appellees/Cross Appellants
Ralph S. Tyler, Ass't Attorney General
Dept. of Law, 7 N. Calvert St., Baltimore MD 21202
(301) 576-6300

Before PHILLIPS, SPROUSE and CHAPMAN, Circuit Judges.