Conservation Lawsuit Revived—Whether Act Is Inconsistent With Another Law Does Not Deprive Court Of Jurisdiction

The Fourth Circuit again reversed dismissals under Rule 12(b) in Goldfarb v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, in a case regarding contamination claims brought under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 USC sec. 6901, et seq. The City of Baltimore gave a parcel of land near the Patapsco River, formerly used for industrial purposes, to a casino developer. Maryland residents sued the City, the developer, and a chemical company that previously used the parcel, under the Act, arguing that the parties caused or failed to properly mitigate pollution on that property, and that the pollution had seeped into nearby properties the residents use and enjoy. The district court dismissed the claims against all the defendants—most under Rule 12(b)(6), and as against the casino developer under 12(b)(1) or (6). Judge Agee’s opinion for the unanimous panel reversed all the dismissals. First, it held that the Act’s anti-duplication provision, which states that the Act will give way whenever it is “inconsistent” with another statute, does not deny the courts of subject matter jurisdiction—it is merely an affirmative defense that can be argued—and thus dismissal under 12(b)(1) was incorrect. The Court also held that in order to dismiss claims under the Act for being “inconsistent” with another statute, the district court had to analyze exactly what that inconsistency was before dismissing under Rule 12(b)(6), noting the care the trial court needed to apply in taking notice of matters outside the complaint. The Court also construed the Act’s “contribution” requirement of section 6972(a)(1)(B) of the Act as requiring a defendant to be alleged to take an active, as opposed to passive, role in the pollution, and held that the residents’ complaint properly pled such facts under 12(b)(6) against the chemical company. A link to the opinion is here: