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Mid-American Waste Sys. v. Gary, City of

Citation: 25 ELR 20700
No. Nos. 94-3602, -3729, 49 F.3d 286/(7th Cir., 02/22/1995)

The court holds that the city of Gary, Indiana, did not violate the due process rights of a municipal-landfill operator by preventing the operator's trucks from depositing nonmunicipal waste at the landfill. The operator, which had contracted with the city to operate the landfill, sued the city under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the city's actions interfered with the operator's leasehold and air rights over the site without due process of law. The court first holds that the operator's claim sounds in substantive due process and that the scope of substantive due process in business law is limited to ensuring that states pay just compensation for property interests they take and, perhaps, to ensuring that states do not take private property for private use. Even when used to protect personal liberties, substantive due process is limited to fundamental rights, and depositing garbage in a landfill is not a fundamental right. The court holds that the landfill operator's opportunity to litigate in state court, where it has already filed suit, is all the process due for ordinary claims of breach of contract. When the issue is the meaning of a commercial contract, a prior hearing is unnecessary.

The court next holds that federal jurisdiction exists over the case, and the fact that the landfill operator lost does not relieve the city and its officials of sanctions for disobedience of a temporary restraining order directing the city to cease and desist from interfering with the operator's operation of the landfill. The court holds that the city must pay the fines the district court imposed for any noncompliance after November 4, 1994, the date the district court announced a schedule of sanctions. But the court vacates and remands the district court's imposition of the fines for October 31 to November 4, 1994, so that the district court can determine with more precision an appropriate compensatory award. Finally, the court notes that it will send a copy of its opinion to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana so that the executive branch may consider whether to initiate a criminal prosecution against city officials for contempt of courtand perjury.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Margaret Felton
City of Gary Law Department
401 Broadway, 4th Fl., Gary IN 46402
(219) 881-1400

Counsel for Defendants
Steven Crist
Singleton, Crist, Patterson & Austgen
9245 Calumet Ave., Ste. 200, Munster IN 46321
(219) 836-0200

Before COFFEY and EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judges, and McDADE, District Judge.*