Hallstrom v. Tillamook County/Dissent Marshall

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Hallstrom v. Tillamook County by Thurgood Marshall
Dissenting Opinion
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Dissenting Opinion
Marshall

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

Purporting to rely on "the plain language" of 42 U.S.C. § 6972(b) (1982 ed.), ante, at 31, the Court holds that a plaintiff's failure to comply with the 60-day prior notice provision of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 6901 et seq. (1982 ed. and Supp. V), is necessarily fatal to his case. Yet even under the Court's preferred "literal reading" of the statute, ante, at 26, the sanction for a violation of the notice provision is anything but clear. Because requiring district courts to dismiss every action filed in violation of § 6972(b) ill serves both judicial economy and Congress' purposes in adopting RCRA, I dissent.

The relevant portion of the notice provision reads: "No action may be commenced under paragraph (a)(1) of this section-(1) prior to sixty days after the plaintiff has given notice of the violation (A) to the Administrator [of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ]; (B) to the State in which the alleged violation occurs; and (C) to any alleged violator. . . ." § 6972(b). There can be no doubt that the statute requires notice before a plaintiff can file a complaint. Nor is it open to debate that petitioners failed to notify the State and the EPA of the alleged violation 60 days before they filed a complaint in the District Court and thereby "commenced this action," ante, at 23, within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 3. The Court states these inescapable facts and, without any further analysis, concludes that the sanction for violating § 6972(b) is dismissal. #fn-s [1] The Court fails to recognize, however, that there is no necessary connection between a violation of that statute and any particular sanction for noncompliance.

That a plaintiff's failure to comply with statutory conditions precedent before bringing suit does not necessarily mandate dismissal of her action is apparent from our decision in Oscar Mayer & Co. v. Evans, 441 U.S. 750, 99 S.Ct. 2066, 60 L.Ed.2d 609 (1979). In Oscar Mayer, we were asked to interpret § 14(b) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 81 Stat. 607, as set forth in 29 U.S.C. § 633(b) (1982 ed.), which provides in part that "no suit may be brought under section 626 of this title before the expiration of sixty days after proceedings have been commenced under the State law." Because we found that "[t]he section is intended to give state agencies a limited opportunity to resolve problems of employment discrimination and thereby to make unnecessary, resort to federal relief by victims of the discrimination," 441 U.S., at 755, 99 S.Ct., at 2071, we held the 60-day notice requirement to be a "mandatory, not optional," precondition to suit. Id., at 758, 99 S.Ct., at 2073. Compare ante, at 26 (holding that RCRA's 60-day notice provision "is a mandatory, not optional, condition precedent for suit").

We nevertheless held that, rather than dismissing the suit, the court should hold it in abeyance for 60 days after the commencement of state proceedings, after which time the grievant could continue his federal suit. 441 U.S., at 764-765, 99 S.Ct., at 2075-2076. We explained:

"Suspension of proceedings is preferable to dismissal with leave to refile. . . . 'To require a second "filing" by the aggrieved party after termination of state proceedings would serve no purpose other than the creation of an additional procedural technicality. Such technicalities are particularly inappropriate in a statutory scheme in which laymen, unassisted by trained lawyers, initiate the process.' Love v. Pullman Co., [[[404 U.S. 522]], 526-527, 92 S.Ct. 616, 619, 30 L.Ed.2d 679 (1972) ] (charge may be held in suspended animation during deferral period). For this reason, suspension pending deferral is the preferred practice in the federal courts." Id., 441 U.S., at 765, n. 13, 99 S.Ct., at 2076, n. 13 (citations omitted).

To be sure, part of our reason for finding that a stay regime was preferable to dismissal and refiling was that laypersons filed many of the suits at issue, a circumstance that is arguably not present in RCRA cases. See ante, at 28 (suggesting, without evidence, that citizen suits under RCRA tend to be filed by represented parties). The point for present purposes, however, is simply that violation of a mandatory precondition to suit does not necessarily require dismissal of the suit. Where, as here, the statute specifies no sanction, factors extrinsic to statutory language enter into the decision as to what sanction is appropriate. See also United States v. Robinson, 361 U.S. 220, 223-224, 80 S.Ct. 282, 285, 4 L.Ed.2d 259 (1960) (in determining whether court is deprived of jurisdiction over appeal when notice of appeal is not timely filed and when rule specifically provides that a court may not enlarge the period for filing notice of appeal, the court should make "a detailed examination of the language, judicial interpretations, and history of [the relevant rules]").

The Court's own analysis in this case makes clear that the purposes of the notice requirement would be served equally well by a court order staying proceedings for 60 days as by dismissal, and that the broader purposes of the citizen suit provision would be better served by the former. The Court identifies two purposes that Congress intended the notice requirement to serve: "First, notice allows Government agencies to take responsibility for enforcing environmental regulations, thus obviating the need for citizen suits. . . . Second, notice gives the alleged violator 'an opportunity to bring itself into complete compliance with the Act and thus likewise render unnecessary a citizen suit.' " Ante, at 29 (quoting Gwaltney of Smithfield, Inc. v. Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Inc., 484 U.S. 49, 60, 108 S.Ct. 376, 382, 98 L.Ed.2d 306 (1987)). All that is necessary to meet these concerns is a 60-day delay; whether it comes immediately before or immediately after the filing of the complaint is immaterial. Indeed, even the Court does not deny that stay and dismissal accomplish the same goals. See ante, at 26 (expressing no view on "[w]hether or not a stay is in fact the functional equivalent of a precommencement delay").

Furthermore, one of Congress' purposes in enacting the citizen suit provision, of which the notice requirement is a part, was to encourage citizen suits. See, e.g., S.Rep. No. 91-1196, pp. 36-37 (1970) (legislative history of identical provision of Clean Air Amendments of 1970, 42 U.S.C. § 7604). Compare ante, at 29. Where Congress intends to facilitate citizen suits, and where the salutary purposes of the notice provision can be equally well served by a stay as by dismissal, a regime that requires the dismissal of a citizen suit that has "consumed the time and energy of a District Court and the parties for nearly four years," ante, at 32, and that has resulted in a judicial determination that respondent has violated RCRA, ante, at 24, is simply inconsistent with the will of Congress.

Perhaps recognizing that repeated invocations of the statute's "plain language" do nothing to advance its analysis, the Court also offers, in support of the proposition that "[a]s a general rule, if an action is barred by the terms of a statute, it must be dismissed," ante, at 31, a citation to Baldwin County Welcome Center v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 104 S.Ct. 1723, 80 L.Ed.2d 196 (1984). The absence in the Court's opinion of a quotation from Baldwin County Welcome Center in support of the proposition for which it is cited is no accident-the case does not stand for that proposition. In that case, the "issue before the Court of Appeals and before this Court [was] whether the filing of a right-to-sue letter with the District Court constituted the commencement of an action" within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 3. 466 U.S., at 150, n. 4, 104 S.Ct., at 1725, n. 4. Finding "no persuasive justification" for the view that what constitutes a "complaint" under Rule 3 should be different in Title VII cases than in other federal litigation, the Court reinstated the District Court's finding that a right-to-sue letter was not a "complaint." Id., at 150, 104 S.Ct., at 1725. Nowhere did the Court so much as hint that it was recognizing or establishing a general rule that any action barred by the terms of a statute must be dismissed even if the statutory goals animating the rule can otherwise be served.

The Court's reasoning reduces to an unexplained assertion followed by a citation to illusory authority. Because the Court's conclusion is not compelled by the language of the notice provision, and because Congress's twin purposes of fostering private enforcement of RCRA and of conserving judicial resources are better served by a rule permitting the district courts to stay actions such as this for 60 days rather than requiring dismissal, I dissent.

Notes[edit]

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