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Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air v. Pennsylvania

ELR Citation: 15 ELR 20202
Nos. No. 84-1332, 755 F.2d 38/22 ERC 1393/(3d Cir., 02/11/1985) Unpublished refusal to vacate consent decree aff'd

The court holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing Pennsylvania's motion to vacate the 1978 federal consent decree mandating implementation of an automobile emission inspection and maintenance program in light of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision enjoining compliance with the decree. Relying on the full faith and credit clause, the court rules that a decree issued by a federal court determining rights under a federal statute, the Clean Air Act, is res judicata in subsequent state court proceedings. Therefore, the collateral attacks on the consent decree in the Pennsylvania courts based on the lack of authority of the state officials to enter into the decree are precluded.Only the federal courts can determine the authority of parties to enter into federal consent decrees. The court concludes that the district court properly exercised its discretion in denying Pennsylvania's motion under Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to vacate the decree based on the lack of equities in Pennsylvania's claim.

A concurrence emphasizes that a state court has no power to disturb a federal decree. The judge would base this conclusion on the supremacy clause, not the full faith and credit clause, which addresses only relations between states.

[The state Supreme Court decision is reported at 14 ELR 20146. Other related cases can be found at 11 ELR 20952, 20954, 20956; 12 ELR 20191, 20289, 20295, 20533, 20631; 13 ELR 20426; 15 ELR 20192.]

Counsel for Appellants
John M. Hrubovcak
Office of Chief Counsel
Department of Transportation, Transportation & Safety Bldg., Harrisburg PA 17120
(717) 787-2330

Counsel for Appellees
Jerome Balter
Public Interest Law Center
1315 Walnut St., Suite 1632, Philadelphia PA 19107
(215) 737-7200

F. Henry Habicht II, Ass't Attorney General; Jacques B. Gelin, Maria A. Iizuka
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2753

Before Becker and Stern,* JJ.