Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 23, 2013

NJ Appellate Court Holds State Statutes on Siting of Medical Waste Processing Facility Preempt Local Zoning

Waste Management of New Jersey, Inc., sought to construct a medical waste processing facility in Newark, New Jersey (“City”).  When the City’s Zoning Board (“Board”) denied the use variance application, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment against the City and the Board, stating that the Board’s decision was invalid.  The trial court held that parts of the City’s land use ordinances and redevelopment plan were preempted by New Jersey’s Solid Waste Management Act (“SWMA”) and Comprehensive Regulated Medical Waste Management Act (“CRMWMA”), “to the extent that they pertain to the licensing, location and operation of plaintiff’s proposed medical waste processing facility.”  Collectively, the two Acts seek to protect the public health, manage the processing of medical waste, and require commercial facilities to maintain a solid waste management plan.  The CRMWMA provides that it supersedes any local ordinances regarding medical waste processing.  The Act further provides that commercial facilities need not seek approval from the municipality, but rather from the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”).  The City appealed the trial court’s decision.

The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division explained that preemption, which prohibits a municipality from acting contrary to the State, can be analyzed with five considerations: (1) whether the ordinance conflicts with state law; (2) whether the state law is intended to be exclusive in the field; (3) whether the subject matter reflects a need for uniformity; (4) whether the state scheme is so comprehensive that it could not coexist with separate municipal laws; and (5) whether the ordinance stands in the way of the purposes and objectives of the state legislature.

The CRMWMA provides that in addition to the Act itself, waste processing facilities must also adhere to any applicable Federal, State, county, and local laws.  The City cited to this provision in support of its argument that the state legislature did not intend the CRMWMA to be exclusive in the field or to preclude a similar municipal law’s coexistence.

In its review, the Superior Court applied each of the five considerations to the present case.  First, the court found that the City’s laws are not in direct conflict with the SWMA or the CRMWMA, because “neither is decisive on [the] siting [of medical waste facilities].”  Second, the CRMWMA’s provision that it supersedes all other relevant laws, as well as its requirement of a comprehensive management system, both imply that it intended to be exclusive in the field.   Moreover, although the DEP must consider the municipality’s preferences regarding the construction of a medical waste facility, the DEP has the ultimate power to override those preferences.  The court found that this, too, implies exclusivity.  Third, the court cited to the state legislature’s explicit declaration that uniformity of medical waste management is of utmost importance.  Fourth, the court determined that the state scheme is in fact so comprehensive that the coexistence of separate municipal laws may be problematic.  The court reasoned that the fact that DEP approval is required for the construction of a medical waste facility, while the municipality’s preferences are merely a consideration, “strongly speaks in favor of preemption.”  Fifth and finally, the court determined that while the state intends its laws to serve the good of the state as a whole, the the City’s laws only serve its own good.  As such, the City’s ordinance is not in agreement with the purposes of the state legislature, and the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision finding its analysis of the five considerations supported a determination that the CRMWMA and the SWMA preempted the municipal laws at issue.

Waste Management of New Jersey, Inc. v. City of Newark Zoning Board, 2013 WL 3184768 (NJ Super. 6/25/2013)

The opinion can be accessed at:


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