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EXXON Corp. v. Hunt

June 30, 1982

EXXON CORPORATION, THE BF GOODRICH COMPANY, AND UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION, MONSANTO COMPANY AND TENNECO CHEMICALS, INC., APPELLANTS
v.
ROBERT HUNT, ADMINISTRATOR OF NEW JERSEY SPILL COMPENSATION FUND, CLIFFORD A. GOLDMAN, TREASURER OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, SIDNEY GLASER, DIRECTOR OF THE DIVISION OF TAXATION, JERRY F. ENGLISH, COMMISSIONER OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, AND THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, APPELLEES



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY

Author: Weis

Before: HUNTER, WEIS and HIGGINBOTHAM,*fn* Circuit Judges

Reargued June 7, 1982

Before: HUNTER, WEIS and BECKER, Circuit Judges

Opinion OF THE COURT

WEIS, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that a federal statute exempted them from a state tax. Invoking the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1341 (1976), the district court dismissed the case. We find that, although it recites a federal statute, the complaint does not present a claim that "arises under" federal law. On this ground, as well as on the Tax Injunction Act, we affirm the dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.

Plaintiffs' complaint in the district court alleged that a tax levied under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, N.J. STAT. ANN. § 58:10-23.11 et seq. (West 1982), is "unconstitutional and preempted" by a similar federal statute, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 ("Superfund Act"), Pub. L. No. 96-510, 94 Stat. 2767 (1980) (to be codified in 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601 -57). In addition, plaintiffs sought a refund of taxes collected by the state under the Spill Act after the federal statute went into effect. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because of the bar imposed by the Tax Injunction Act.

New Jersey enacted the Spill Act in 1976 to control the handling of hazardous substances within the state, require prompt cleanup, and provide compensation for associated costs and damages. N.J. STAT. ANN. § 58:10-23.11a. To carry out these purposes, a Spill Compensation Fund within the state treasury is financed by a barrel tax levied upon each owner or operator of a major facility for hazardous substances. Id. at § 58:10-23.11g, -23.11h, -23.11i.

In the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, Congress also dealt with the problems caused by the release of hazardous substances into the environment. The federal Act creates a Hazardous Substance Response Trust Fund (Superfund), 42 U.S.C. § 9631, which is subsidized in part by taxes levied on crude oil, imported petroleum products, and certain chemicals. 26 U.S.C. §§ 4611, 4661. Section 114(c) of the Superfund Act, 42 U.S.C. § 9614(c), states:

"Except as provided in this Act, no person may be required to contribute to any fund, the purpose of which is to pay compensation for claims for any costs of response or damages or claims which may be compensated under this title."

Contending that § 114(c) excuses them from paying taxes into the New Jersey Spill Fund, Exxon and the other plaintiffs sought a declaration in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Jurisdiction was asserted under the federal question statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and § 113(b) of the Superfund Act, 42 U.S.C. § 9613(b), which provides that "the United States district courts shall have exclusive original jurisdiction over all controversies arising under this Act. . . ."

New Jersey moved to dismiss the suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction on the basis of the Tax Injunction Act: "The district courts shall not enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such State." The district judge found that New Jersey law does provide an adequate remedy and granted the motion.*fn1 He reasoned that the more specific Tax Injunction Act prevailed over the Superfund Act on the question of jurisdiction and concluded that the state courts can entertain plaintiffs' preemption claim.*fn2

On appeal, plaintiffs argue that the district court misconstrued the relationship between § 113(b) of the Superfund Act and the Tax Injunction Act. Since § 113(b) vests the district courts with exclusive original jurisdiction over cases arising under the Superfund Act, plaintiffs contend that the state courts are unable to grant any remedy. In their view, then, the ...


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