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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Dallas Wants Retrial to Defend Trash Flow Law

DALLAS (CN) - A federal judge made several "manifest, material, and prejudicial errors of law" in invalidating a Dallas law controlling garbage flow, Dallas says in a motion for a new trial.

In a 2011 lawsuit, National Solid Wastes Management Association and others had complained that the ordinance forced them to take trash to the McCommas Bluff Sanitary Landfill in southeast Dallas. Before the ordinance, they were allowed to take the trash to several other landfills in Dallas and the surrounding suburbs.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor imposed a permanent injunction on the ordinance in October, scoffing at the city's attempts to justify the ordinance, such as saying that it deterred illegal dumping while increasing recycling and cost efficiency.

"The court finds that, despite the city's proffered justifications, the evidence demonstrates that it implemented the flow control ordinance to raise revenue to advance its economic and proprietary interests at the expense of the franchisees' rights," O'Connor wrote. "This is an unreasonable exercise of its police powers."

Belying these purported benefits, Mayor Mike Rawlings had emphasized how the law would raise revenues at a September 2011 city council meeting, the 37-page order noted.

As quoted in the ruling, Rawlings said: "There's 700 to 900 ... thousand tons of commercial waste leaving the city of Dallas and people are making money off of that. Corporations outside of Dallas are making money off of that. That could mean $15 to $18 million of revenue for the city coffers."

Former city sanitation director Mary Nix also "made a series of admissions that shows the purported justifications were not the true motivation," the court found.

In a Nov. 13 motion for a new trial, Dallas says O'Connor's ruling is "manifestly erroneous" because it ignores constitutional avoidance.

"The rule of constitutional avoidance requires that prior to reaching any of the constitutional questions presented in litigation, federal courts must first consider the nonconstitutional grounds for decision - resolving the case on non-constitutional grounds if possible," according to the motion authored by Assistant City Attorney James McGuire. "Instead of deciding the non-constitutional issue of whether the Flow Control Ordinance violates the Dallas City Charter, the court addressed the constitutional issue first."

Dallas says the plaintiff trash haulers did not seek to enjoin the ordinance based on alleged violations of the city charter.

If O'Connor had granted the requested relief, the constitutional claims would have been moot, according to the 11-page motion.

The order also did not show proper deference to the city council, Dallas said. Though state courts are the ultimate authority regarding interpretation of state statutes and constitutionality, O'Connor instead favored an "improperly applied and unspecified heightened level of scrutiny," according to the motion.

Federal law provides a deferential, rational basis standard for testing the ordinance, Dallas said, adding that an ordinance must be upheld if facts, known or reasonably assumed, support it.

In this case, the court and both parties agree the ordinance has laudable goals, such as deterring illegal dumping and encouraging recycling, Dallas continued.

"Instead of giving these goals as recited in the ordinance - the only competent evidence of what the City Council as a legislative body as a whole intended - the court instead erroneously chose to give more weight to statements of individual councilmembers (without proper context) and a non-councilmember (then-Director of-Sanitation Mary Nix)," the motion states. "In doing so, the court improperly delved into the sincerity of certain councilmembers and imputed select portions of their statements and a non-councilmember statements to the entire city and its council."

It adds: "Moreover, the court failed to find that the Flow Control Ordinance would not result in the city achieving the plainly-stated goals. Accordingly, the court cannot conclude that the city council was unreasonable or arbitrary."

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