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Khodara Envtl., Inc. v. Beckman

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20400
Nos. Nos. 99-3458 et al., 237 F.3d 186/(3d Cir., 01/17/2001)

The court holds that the repeal and replacement of a 1996 statutory amendment to the Federal Aviation Reauthorizaton Act governing the placement of landfills near commercial airports moots and requires vacatur of a potential landfill operator's facial attacks on the constitutionality of the amendment, but does not moot the operator's as-applied constitutional claims. The operator applied for and received permits to construct a landfill adjacent to an airport. In 1996, six years after preconstruction began, the state environmental agency determined that the landfill site contained wetlands of an exceptional value and revoked the operator's permits. The operator appealed the decision and that action is still pending in Pennsylvania state court. Also in 1996, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Reauthorizaton Act with an amendment placing strict limitations on the construction of landfills near commercial airports. The operator challenged the amendment in federal district court, and the district court found the amendment facially unconstitutional. In 2000, Congress enacted legislation substantially modifying the 1996 amendment and significantly broadening its scope, thereby resolving many of the district court's concerns.

The court holds that the passage of the 2000 amendment moots the operator's facial constitutional challenges to the 1996 amendment. The scope of the 2000 amendment is substantially broader than that of the challenged law, and a declaration of unconstitutionality or injunction directed against the objectionable features of the 1996 amendment would serve no purpose today. Further, the operator's challenges do not fall within any recognized exception to the mootness doctrine. Accordingly, the court vacates the district court's judgment as to the facial unconstitutionality of the 1996 amendment. There is no evidence to suggest that the 2000 amendment represents manipulation of the legislative process rather than responsible law making. The court next holds, however, that the operator's as-applied constitutional claims are not mooted by the 2000 amendment. Unlike the operator's facial constitutional challenges, which sought only prospective declaratory and injunctive relief, the operator's as-applied claims seek damages for the past application of the 1996 amendment, which invests the operator with a continuing, concrete stake in the outcome of this litigation that was not redressed by the 2000 amendment. Nevertheless, the court then holds that the operator's procedural and substantive due process rights were not violated.

Counsel for Appellee
John P. Krill Jr.
Kirkpatrick & Lockhart
Payne-Shoemaker Bldg.
240 N. Third St., Harrisburg PA 17101
(717) 231-4500

Counsel for Appellant
Scott R. McIntosh
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Stapleton and Pollak,* JJ.