Subject Matter Jurisdiction Under RCRA: Testing the Limits of the Commerce Clause in a Citizens' Suit


Courts have traditionally construed federal jurisdiction of environmental statutes expansively, consistent with their remedial intent. However, recent opinions in Voggenthaler v. Maryland Square, LLC, Case 2:08-cv-1618 (D. Nevada), suggest that there may still be room to challenge subject matter jurisdiction where the alleged RCRA violations have only intrastate effects and do not involve commerce.

In Voggenthaler, plaintiff homeowners alleged that a former dry cleaner in the defendants' mall discharged toxins into groundwater that caused a contaminated plume under the plaintiffs' properties. The complaint alleged that the plume extended only to a limited area within Nevada. The plaintiffs brought a citizens' suit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), alleging that disposal of hazardous waste (the release of toxins) had caused an "imminent and substantial endangerment" under the statute. The mall owners then impleaded Sears and other parties for contribution under CERCLA, alleging that those defendants had contributed to the contamination in the plume. Sears moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' RCRA claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

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