B&D Defeats $5.1 Million Enforcement Order Against Chiquita Canyon Landfill

Following a September 2018 trial before a Los Angeles County Hearing Officer, Beveridge & Diamond litigators secured a decision vacating a $5.1 million Enforcement Order for fees and penalties against firm client Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Los Angeles County, California. The Hearing Officer issued her decision on February 20, 2019, rescinding the 2017 Enforcement Order issued by the LA County Department of Public Works (DPW).

The Enforcement Order alleged that Chiquita Canyon (owned by Waste Connections) owed LA County millions of dollars in solid waste management fees based on a per-ton tipping fee collected by the County for waste disposal. DPW argued that Chiquita Canyon should have paid disposal fees on certain of the materials classified as beneficial reuse that the landfill did not dispose of but used for beneficial purposes at the landfill, such as rubble and greenwaste used for erosion control, daily cover, and other maintenance. DPW argued that no more than 20% of material received at the landfill could count toward beneficial reuse and that Chiquita Canyon's soil and beneficial reuse material usage far exceeded this percentage. DPW then reclassified 75% of these beneficial reuse materials as disposal and sought retroactive solid waste disposal fees and administrative penalties for 1.6 million tons of material.

The Hearing Officer rejected the County's arguments and voided all fees and penalties. Chiquita Canyon never disposed of soil or beneficial reuse materials at the landfill and the Hearing Officer found that DPW "failed to demonstrate its independent authority under the County Code or [state law] to reclassify clean soil as excessive beneficial reuse material, making it waste subject to the [disposal] Fee." She also rejected the County's invocation of a purported "industry standard" requirement that beneficial reuse material not exceed a 4:1 ratio of disposal waste to beneficial reuse material, stating that "there was no evidence or testimony that the 4:1 total disposal to beneficial reuse ratio is anything but arbitrary," in part because "waste to cover ratio determinations and calculations are not an exact science."

“The company is pleased with the decision and appreciates the close attention of the hearing officer to the evidence and law," said James Little, Waste Connections' Senior Vice President for Engineering and Disposal. "Chiquita Canyon Landfill is an important pillar of the Southern California economy with an almost perfect compliance record since Waste Connections’ acquisition of the Landfill in 2010. We’re proud of how we can repurpose large amounts of soil, C&D, green waste and other beneficial reuse material to make this a best in class landfill.  We value our relationship with the regulators in Los Angeles County and look forward to continuing to work with them to help Chiquita Canyon meet the needs of its many municipal and commercial customers in the Los Angeles area.”

B&D Principal Jimmy Slaughter (Washington, DC) and Associate Megan Morgan (Baltimore) tried the case for Chiquita Canyon, with assistance at trial from colleagues Jake Duginski (San Francisco) and Brooklyn Hildebrandt (Washington, DC). Principal Gary Smith (San Francisco) worked on trial preparation and briefing.

Large enforcement orders are rarely completely vacated, and this decision "has national importance in terms of the vindication of landfill use of beneficial reuse materials, which all landfills utilize," said lead counsel Jimmy Slaughter. "Chiquita Canyon used a significant amount of beneficial reuse material, providing an important service to businesses, homeowners and municipalities that must manage these wastes."

View news coverage of this decision in Waste360 and Waste Dive.