A California state court has held that state courts can have jurisdiction over claims brought under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”). In Schaeffer v. Gregory Village Partners, L.P. et al., MSC11-01307 (Contra Costa County, May 15, 2012), the Court held that 42 U.S.C. section 6972(a) does not vest exclusive jurisdiction in federal courts to hear RCRA actions.
The Court, in a detailed, fourteen page decision, discussed how the Ninth Circuit has not taken a position on this issue, that other circuits which have faced this issue are split, and how no mandatory precedent of the United States Supreme Court or California courts of appeal exists for it to follow. The Court therefore went on to analyze the issue of concurrent or exclusive federal jurisdiction relying on U.S. Supreme Court principles. The question, the court reasoned, was whether RCRA contains an “explicit statutory directive” or the legislative history of the statute contains an “unmistakable implication” that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over RCRA claims. The language from RCRA at issue uses the phrase “[a]ny action under paragraph (a)(1) of this subsection shall be brought in the district court for the district in which the alleged violation occurred….” After analyzing other directives from other statutes on jurisdiction, like CERCLA, which uses the phrase “…shall have exclusive original jurisdiction….” and jurisdictional clauses which use phrases such as “shall have jurisdiction,” the Court concluded that RCRA’s phraseology preserved concurrent jurisdiction because the directive was not explicit, and that no unmistakable implication to the contrary existed in the legislative history.
This ruling may open the door for plaintiffs to attempt to bring RCRA claims in state courts in California, and possibly even anywhere in the Ninth Circuit, and forum shop instead of being mandated to file in federal court.