WASTE CONNECTIONS, INC. v. OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY

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WASTE CONNECTIONS, INC. v. OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
2002 OK 94
61 P.3d 219
Case Number: 97928
Decided: 12/10/2002

THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA

WASTE CONNECTIONS, INC. d/b/a RED CARPET LANDFILL, Plaintiff/Appellant
v.
OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT of ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY, Defendant/Appellee

APPEAL RETAINED

¶0 Waste Connections received a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permit to operate its Meno, Oklahoma landfill in September 2001. Shortly thereafter, the DEQ notified Waste Connections that it must submit a disposal plan under

APPEAL RETAINED; DECISION OF THE TRIAL COURT REVERSED AND CAUSE REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS TO PROCEED IN A MANNER CONSISTENT WITH THIS OPINION.

Keith R. Gibson, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Waste Connections, Inc. d/b/a Red Carpet Landfill
Jack Y. Perry & Lori J. Marco, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Waste Connections, Inc. d/b/a Red Carpet Landfill
Stan A. Koop, Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for the Department of Environmental Quality

BOUDREAU, J.

¶1 This appeal is the result of a June 13, 2002 order of the district court of Major County, in which the trial court dismissed Waste Connections', Inc. d/b/a Red Carpet Landfill (Waste Connections), request for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, so that this case may proceed through the administrative process before the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). [61 P.3d 221]

¶2 The DEQ is a state agency charged with the administration of the Oklahoma Solid Waste Management Act, 27A O.S. 2001, § 2-10-201, et seq. Waste Connections received a DEQ permit to operate its Meno, Oklahoma (Red Carpet Landfill) facility in September 2001. Shortly thereafter, the DEQ notified Waste Connections that it must submit a disposal plan under

¶3 The parties then scheduled an administrative appeal, which was continued at the request of the administrative hearing clerk. Prior to the rescheduled hearing, Waste Connections initiated suit against the DEQ in Major County, requesting a declaratory judgment, temporary restraining order and a temporary injunction. In its suit Waste Connections asserted, among other things that the rule, O.A.C. 252:205-3-2(c), did not apply to its landfill and both the rule and the statute, 27A O.S. 2001, § 2-10-801 (D)(1), are unconstitutional under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

¶4 The DEQ moved to dismiss the cause for improper venue and failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The trial court determined venue was appropriate in Major County, but dismissed Waste Connections' claim, because it failed to exhaust all administrative remedies prior to filing action in district court. In the order dismissing the claim the court determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider the matter in light of Waste Connections' failure to exhaust its administrative remedies.

¶5 Waste Connections appealed the order dismissing its claim, asserting jurisdiction was proper.

¶6 Waste Connections requested this Court retain this appeal. We retain this [61 P.3d 222]appeal to examine an apparent conflict between the trial court's decision and a number of recognized exceptions to the exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement.

I. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

¶7 Where relief is available from an administrative agency, a plaintiff is ordinarily required to pursue that avenue of redress before proceeding to the courts. Walker v, Group Health Services, Inc.,

¶8 In cases in which exhaustion of remedies is not required by statute, this Court has held that the requirement to exhaust administrative remedies is a prudential rule, rather than a jurisdictional bar. Walker,

¶9 The notion that an administrative process may be inadequate to fully and satisfactorily protect a right in question forms the basis of an exception to the doctrine of exhaustion of remedies for constitutional claims. The exception is a recognition that administrative agencies lack the power to pass on constitutional questions. Dow Jones & Co. Inc. v. State ex rel. Oklahoma Tax Comm'n,

¶10 In addition, a plaintiff need not exhaust administrative remedies when the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) states that exhaustion is not required. Title

¶11 A declaratory judgment under § 306 of the APA is not available for review of an adjudication effected in the course of a judicial proceeding. Texas Co. Irrigation & Water Resources Ass'n v. Oklahoma Water Resources Bd.,

An agency's authority to make rules is clearly distinguishable from that of adjudication. Rulemaking includes the power to adopt rules and regulations of general application--both substantive and procedural--which are legislative in nature, operate prospectively and have general application. Orders of an administrative body are adjudicative in character. They apply to named persons or specific situations and have immediate rather than future operation.

Harry R. Carlile Trust v. Cotton Petroleum Corp.

II. The Trial Court Erred When It Dismissed Waste Connections'
Claim for Lack of Jurisdiction

¶12 In sustaining the DEQ's motion to dismiss, the trial court was of the view that the exhaustion of administrative remedies doctrine presented a jurisdictional bar to its consideration of Waste Connections' request for relief, rather than a prudential one. This view is contrary to our most recent pronouncement in Walker,

¶13 In its petition, Waste Connections contends that DEQ's interpretation and enforcement of

¶14 Similarly, Waste Connections contends alternatively in its petition that O.A.C. 252:205-3-2(c) does not apply to its landfill and, in the event it does apply, the rule unconstitutionally burdens interstate commerce. Waste Connections alleges that the rule or its threatened application interferes with or impairs its legal rights. These allegations directly attack the validity and applicability of the rule in controversy and accordingly

¶15 We note that

¶16 APPEAL RETAINED; DECISION OF THE TRIAL COURT REVERSED AND CAUSE REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS TO PROCEED IN A MANNER CONSISTENT WITH THIS OPINION.

¶17 HARGRAVE, C.J., WATT, V.C.J., HODGES, LAVENDER, KAUGER, SUMMERS, BOUDREAU, and WINCHESTER, JJ., Concur.

¶18 OPALA, J., Concurs in Result. [61 P.3d 225]

FOOTNOTES

1 Title 27A O.S. 2001 § 2-10-801(D)(1) provides:
D. Before any disposal site accepts for disposal any solid waste generated outside the territorial limits of this state in excess of two hundred (200) tons per day:
1. The operator of the disposal site shall submit to the Department for approval a disposal plan prepared by either the generator or shipper as set out in the rules promulgated by the Board. Such plans as a minimum shall indicate the type and amount of solid waste generated, the handling, storage, treatment, disposal method and the disposal site to be used. The disposal plans shall be kept current by the persons submitting the original disposal plans and the Department shall be advised not less than five (5) working days prior to the day on which such changes are to be implemented. Persons storing or shipping recyclable materials in an environmentally acceptable manner for the purpose of recycling shall be required to file disposal plans required by this subsection only for those wastes which are to be disposed.

2 O.A.C. 252:205-3-2(c) incorporates by reference the Code of Federal Regulations, Environmental Protection Agency, 40 C.F.R. § 261. Section 261 deals with various aspects of identifying and listing hazardous waste, including how to identify hazardous material, how material may be transported, labeled and categorized and directions for identifying and quantifying particular waste which may be received at some facilities in only limited quantities.

3 Order of the District Court of Major County, June 19, 2002 stated: "The Court further finds that Defendant's Motion regarding dismissal based on lack of jurisdiction should be and hereby is granted."