Ctr. for Cmty. Action v. BNSF

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 08-20-2014
  • Case #: 12-56086
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Murguia for the Court; Circuit Judges Fernandez and N. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

A claim under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act citizen-suit provision must allege that a person has contributed or is contributing to the past or present handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal of any solid or hazardous waste which may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.

Center for Community Action appealed the district court’s dismissal of its complaint under the citizen-suit provision of the Solid Waste Disposal Act (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”)). Center for Community Action sued Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (“BNSF”) and Union Pacific Railroad Company alleging that their respective railyards have “various locomotive, truck, and other heavy-duty vehicle engines [that] emit tons of diesel particulate matter—small, solid particles found in diesel exhaust—into the air” that then contaminate land and water, and are therefore in violation of RCRA. Diesel particulate matter is known to be a “toxic air contaminant” that poses serious health and environmental risks. BNSF argued that Center for Community Action “failed to state a claim under RCRA” and motioned for dismissal. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, stating that the Clean Air Act was applicable for Center for Community Action’s complaint, and that “any ‘gap’ that might exist between the two statutory schemes” was created purposely by Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed whether under RCRA’s citizen-suit provision, Center for Community Action plausibly alleged that BNSF “[has] contributed or [is] contributing to ‘the past or present handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal of any solid or hazardous waste which may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.’” The panel determined based on the context of the statute, and its statutory and legislative histories, that the emission of diesel particulate matter is not within the scope of the definition of “disposal.” The panel therefore concluded that Center for Community Action “fail[ed] to state a plausible claim for relief” under the RCRA’s citizen-suit provision, thus affirming the district court’s judgment. AFFIRMED.

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