Judge Trashes California’s $567,000 Medical Waste Fine

SACRAMENTO (CN) — A federal judge Tuesday found it a simple call that the California Department of Public Health unlawfully fined a medical-waste disposal company $567,000 for disposing of biohazardous materials out of state.

“The case presents a clear violation of the extraterritorial doctrine that requires little analysis,” U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill wrote, in granting Daniels Sharpsmart an injunction against California Department of Public Health Director Karen Smith.

O’Neill found the DPH Medical Waste Management Program violated the Commerce Clause when it threatened Daniels Sharpsmart with penalties if it continued disposing of wastes that originated in California by any method not authorized under California law.

Sharpsmart says its reusable container system, launched in 1999, was the first environmentally friendly method of transporting and disposing of used needles, syringes and other medical waste, according to the company website.
California requires that biohazardous medical waste be incinerated at a permitted waste treatment facility, or disposed of through another method approved by the Department of Public Health.

For years California did not have a facility capable of treating Sharpsmart’s medical wastes, so the company took them to facilities in other states that did not require incineration, according to its lawsuit filed in March.

Defendant Smith sent Sharpsmart a Notice of Violation (NOV) after inspectors visited its Fresno facility and decided that Sharpsmart had violated the Medical Waste Management Act by treating its waste at facilities in Indiana and Kentucky that used methods not authorized by the MWMA.

“The NOV imposed a $567,000 penalty against Daniels for using methods other than incineration to treat biohazardous medical wastes outside of California,” O’Neill wrote, citing the original complaint.

He granted Daniels’ motion for a preliminary injunction, blocking the health department from imposing the MWMA on Daniels’ out-of-state transactions.

“Daniels lawfully used facilities in other states to dispose of its waste, yet defendants asserted this was impermissible for no reason other than doing so allegedly violated the MWMA, a California statute,” O’Neill wrote. “The court easily concludes that defendants’ conduct toward Daniels violated the extraterritoriality doctrine.”

He said the state clearly violated Daniels’ constitutional rights and would probably win on the merits of its case, so an injunction was in order.

“The court concludes Daniels had a clearly established constitutional right to engage in interstate commerce that defendants violated,” O’Neill wrote.

Attorneys for both parties did not immediately return emailed requests for comment Tuesday.

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