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Valero Terrestrial Corp. v. Paige

ELR Citation: 30 ELR 20535
Nos. No. 99-1598P, 211 F.3d 112/(4th Cir., 04/20/2000)

The court holds that a district court properly dismissed as moot a solid waste handler's challenge to West Virginia statutes regulating the disposal of solid waste and properly vacated its own declaratory and permanent injunctions against the enforcement of the statutes. When the solid waste handler initially challenged the states statutes, they were found invalid under the dormant U.S. Commerce Clause, and the district court entered injunctions barring their enforcement. Subsequently, the state legislature revised the statutes to address the enjoined provisions.

The court first holds that the state legislature's statutory amendments to the provisions at issue render the case moot. The amendments repealed the requirements that violated the Commerce Clause. Moreover, the amendments did not constitute voluntary state cessation, which defeats mootness. Such an exception is generally limited to the circumstances in which a defendant openly announces its intention to reenact precisely the same provision held unconstitutional below. Thus, statutory changes that discontinue a challenged practice are usually enough to render a case moot, even if the legislature possesses the power to reenact the statute after the lawsuit is dismissed.

The court then holds that the district court properly vacated its declaratory judgment as to those nonreferenda provisions not in violation of the Commerce Clause. The considerations of fault and public interest relevant to appellate vacatur are also relevant, and largely determinative, of a district court vacatur for mootness. However, vacatur is available as a remedy to a district court in exceptional circumstances where the consideration of relative fault and public interest would otherwise counsel against vacatur. In this case, the mootness was caused by the state legislature amendments and not by the actions of any of the defendants before the court. Therefore, defendant state officials are in a position akin to a party who finds its case mooted by happenstance rather than events within its control. Thus, there is no fault, and because there is no suggestion of the reenactment of the challenged provisions, public interest is not a bar to vacatur. Similarly, the court holds that the district court properly vacated its permanent injunction of enforcement of the nonreferenda provisions. The statutory changes were substantial and warranted vacatur. However, the court holds that the district court improperly refused to vacate those portions of its declaratory and permanent injunction pertaining to the referenda provisions of the challenged state statutes. Because the solid waste handler lacked standing to challenge those provisions, the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter those portions of its judgment.

[A related decision in this litigation is published at 30 ELR 20400.]

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (10 pp., ELR Order No. L-213).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
William F. Fox Jr.
Solid Waste Services, Inc.
320 Godshall Dr., Harleysville PA 19438
(215) 546-2477

Counsel for Defendants
Silas B. Taylor Sr., Deputy Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
State Capitol
1900 Kanawha Blvd. E., Charleston WV 25305
(304) 558-2021