Supreme Court rebuffs LA in sludge fight with Kern County
July 7, 2014
• Says Los Angeles didn’t appeal in time
• “Because the Court of Appeal applied a different interpretation, we reverse”
Los Angeles County might have to find greener pastures for its sewage sludge following a ruling Monday from the California Supreme Court.
The court says Los Angeles filed an appeal of a lower court ruling that barred the dumping its treated sewage in Kern County too late, beyond a 30-day window that followed the dismissal of a similar federal lawsuit.
“Congress enacted section 1367(d) to provide a grace period for claims that would otherwise be lost, not to categorically suspend state statutes of limitations and thereby potentially extend filing periods for years following federal dismissal,” the unanimous Supreme Court decision says. “Because the Court of Appeal applied a different interpretation, we reverse.”
Noting the past disputes, the court notes, “Section 1367(d) is no paragon of clarity, but among those readings plausible from the text, the grace period construction cleaves closest to the goal of avoiding the loss of claims that otherwise would be barred, while impinging least on state sovereign prerogatives to establish statutes of limitations.”
LA sued Kern County after voters in the county passed a measure forbidding the use of treated sewage sludge on farmland. That had been LA’s preferred method to do something with the output of its sewage plants.
Monday’s ruling does not address the merits of sludge as a fertilizer but sticks to settling disputes over how long a grace period there is to file appeals.
The truckloads of sludge will still be coming over the Grapevine to Kern County as a related injunction blocking enforcement of the voter-approved ban remains in effect as other parts of the legal wrangling continue.