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Jwj Industries, Inc. and Jeffrey Holbrook v. Oswego County

June 13, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Neal P. McCURN, Senior U.S. District Court Judge


The matter before the court is a civil rights action, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343 and 42 U.S.C. §1983, in which plaintiffs JWJ Industries, Inc. and Jeffrey Holbrook ("Holbrook"), an officer and shareholder of JWJ Industries, Inc. (collectively, "JWJ") complain, inter alia, of an unconstitutional taking of their property by the defendant Oswego County ("County") without just compensation. The alleged taking occurred when the County enacted the Flow Control provisions ("Flow Control Law") of the Oswego County Recycling and Solid Waste Local Law ("solid waste law"). Currently before the court are the parties' cross motions for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiffs' motion is granted, and defendants' motion is denied as moot.

I. Facts and Procedural History

The court assumes familiarity with the facts and procedural history of this case as set forth in the court's previous decisions. See, e.g., JWJ Industries, Inc. v. Oswego County, 2009 WL 2163097 (N.D.N.Y. 2009). Plaintiffs' amended complaint (Doc. No. 22) sets forth five causes of action: that the Flow Control Law (1) results in an unconstitutional taking without just compensation; (2) violated plaintiffs' due process rights; (3) violated plaintiffs' equal protection rights; (4) entitles plaintiff to Section 1983 relief; and (5) is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Currently before the court is plaintiff's motion for judgment in their favor on the fifth cause of action, requesting that the court set aside the Flow Control Law as unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Defendants have filed a cross motion for judgment on the pleadings.

II. Discussion

The seminal case law on the constitutionality of flow control management is the case of United Haulers Association v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, 550 U.S. 330, 127 S.Ct. 1786 (2007). Comprehensively summarized in a recent case, the Supreme Court in United Haulers upheld a flow control ordinance requiring trash haulers to deliver solid waste to a processing plant owned and operated by a public authority in New York State. [The Court] found compelling reasons for treating the ordinance differently from laws favoring particular private businesses over their competitors. State and local governments that provide public goods and services on their own, unlike private businesses, are vested with the responsibility of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens ... and laws favoring such States and their subdivisions may be directed toward any number of legitimate goals unrelated to protectionism. That was true in United Haulers, where the ordinance addressed waste disposal, both typically and traditionally a local government function. And if more had been needed to show that New York's object was consequently different from forbidden protectionism, [the Court] pointed out that the most palpable harm imposed by the ordinances-more expensive trash removal-was likely to fall upon the very people who voted for the laws rather than out-of-state interests. Being concerned that a contrary approach ... would lead to unprecedented and unbounded interference by the courts with state and local government,[the Court] held that the ordinance did not discriminate against interstate commerce for purposes of the dormant Commerce Clause.

Department of Revenue of Kentucky v. Davis, 553 U.S. 328, 340 (2008) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

In finding that there was no dormant Commerce Clause violation in United Haulers, the Court noted it "distinguished our decision in C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Clarkstown, 511 U.S. 383, 114 S.Ct. 1677 (1994), which struck down a very similar ordinance on Commerce Clause grounds. The Carbone ordinance, however, benefited a private processing facility,*fn1 and [the Court] found this difference constitutionally significant ... Although the Carbone dissent argued that the private facility was essentially a municipal facility, United Haulers relied on the apparent view of the Carbone majority that the facility was properly characterized as private." Dept. of Revenue of Ky v. Davis, 553 U.S. at 340 Fn. 4.

In the case before us, we have another scenario: implementation of a county flow control ordinance and county owned transfer stations which were temporally preceded in the county by the JWJ Transfer Station, a privately owned, state licensed waste transfer station. The JWJ facility is not addressed, specifically or by inference, in Oswego County's Flow Control Law. Pursuant to case law as set forth in United Haulers, the County was unquestionably within its right to implement a flow control ordinance directly affecting the operation of JWJ's transfer station, but the question posed to this court is whether Oswego County's Flow Control Law, as written, violates JWJ's constitutional rights. The narrow question for the court's consideration is whether the Flow Control Law is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, on its face and as it is applied to JWJ.

A. Legal Standard for Judgment on the Pleadings

"The standard for granting a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is identical to that of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001). "In both postures, the district court must accept all allegations in the complaint as true and draw all inferences in the non-moving party's favor. The court will not dismiss the case unless it is satisfied that the complaint cannot state any set of facts that would entitle him to relief." Id. (internal citations omitted).

The function of a motion to dismiss is "merely to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof." Ryder Energy Distribution v. Merrill Lynch Commodities, Inc., 748 F.2d 774, 779 (2d Cir.1984). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. (2007)). When deciding a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true the well pleaded allegations of the complaint. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268, 114 S.Ct. 807 (1994). The allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683 (1973).

B. Finding a Law Unconstitutional Facially and/or As Applied

"As one of the most fundamental protections of the Due Process Clause, the void-for-vagueness doctrine requires that laws be crafted with sufficient clarity to give the person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited and to provide explicit standards for those who apply them." Thibodeau v. Portuondo, 486 F.3d 61 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted). The court in Thibodeau also set forth the two ...

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