Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Medical Waste Assocs. Ltd. Partnership v. Mayor of Baltimore

ELR Citation: 22 ELR 20927
Nos. Nos. 91-1801, -1820, 966 F.2d 148/(4th Cir., 05/28/1992)

The court holds that a local ordinance imposing geographic restrictions on the sources of waste for a regional medical waste incinerator does not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. A commercial enterprise obtained authorization to construct a medical waste incinerator, and after completion of the facility, contests the ordinance's waste source restrictions. The court first holds that the ordinance does not discriminate against out-of-state waste. The per se rule of invalidity set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 8 ELR 20450, does not apply, because the ordinance bans medical waste from only one facility within a city. Further, on de novo review, the court holds that adopting a "single facility" exception to the per se rule of Philadelphia v. New Jersey is appropriate. A single facility exception is a practical accommodation of the market participant exception to the per se rule of invalidity, and allows cities and counties to solve regional waste problems. The market participant exception would have allowed the local government to build and operate a medical waste facility, reserving the facility's entire capacity for its residents. Adopting a single facility rule allows a city to use private capital to solve a regional problem that might otherwise be too costly a credit impairment for the city to undertake on its own. A city should not be forced to choose between building a waste facility itself or allowing waste from outside the region to overwhelm a privately built facility. The court also observes that its conclusion is supported by the Ninth Circuit's decision in Evergreen Waste Systems v. Metropolitan Service District, 17 ELR 20901, which held that the per se rule of invalidity does not apply when the restriction against out-of-state waste involves a single facility. Having found that the ordinance is not a per se violation of the Commerce Clause, the court next holds that the ordinance is constitutional because it satisfies the criteria set forth in 1970 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Pike v. Bruce Church. Creating a regional facility limited to a specific geographical area ensures that a whole region's infectious and noninfectious waste will be properly disposed of, and any burden on interstate commerce, an issue not raised in the record, is only incidental. Additionally, the court states in dictum that although its holding forecloses an inquiry into whether the appellant's claim is constitutionally estopped, the commercial enterprise knew of and acquiesced to the ordinance's geographic limitations before construction began. Thus, it is questionable whether retaining the benefits of the ordinance precluded the opportunity to allege constitutional violations after the incinerator was ready to become operational.

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Appellants
William C. Brashares
Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo
1825 I St. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 293-0500

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
Justin James King, Ass't City Solicitor
Baltimore City Hall Law Department
100 N. Holiday St., Baltimore MD 21202
(410) 396-3944

Before Widener and Chapman, JJ.