$950K fine leads to dispute over North Dakota agency jurisdiction

| May 13, 2016 | Civil Litigation

Most people, when they consider some issue worthy of bringing a lawsuit, assume they will have “their day in court.” For some matters, this is true. Arrested for a drunk driving offense, you will go to court. Want to sue your neighbor for $100,000 in damage they caused to your home? That too, is a matter for which a North Dakota court would have jurisdiction.

And from the North Dakota district courts, an appeal could be to the state’s Court of Appeal, which is made up of judges from the district courts temporarily assigned to that court. The state’s Supreme Court is responsible for assigning cases to the Court of Appeal and some years may not assign any cases. There are also municipal courts, which typically hear cases involving municipal ordinance violations.

But a whole range of matters is adjudicated by the administrative bodies of the State’s agencies. Agency law governs a wide variety of matters, ranging from Game and Fish Department and the Highway Patrol to the Wheat Commission and the State Real Estate Commission.

But sometimes knowing which state agency is the relevant one may be somewhat difficult. A case involving a trucking company and the state Industrial Commission over the dumping of wastewater from oil drilling has led to such a jurisdictional dispute.

The Department of Health settled with the trucking company for the violation with a $200,000 fine and a suspended fine of $259,000. The Industrial Commission has disagreed with an Administrative Law Judge who ruled they lacked jurisdiction over the matter and levied a fine of $950,000.

The Department of Mineral Resources agrees that Industrial Commission is the proper authority, and the Director worries that the ALJ’s ruling would allow “agency shopping” to find the entity that would accept the lowest fine.

Given the size of the fine, the IC expects the case to be appealed to the district court and from there to the Supreme Court, which will have the final word on which agency has jurisdiction.

Source: thedickinsonpress.com, “N.D. regulators stick with $950,000 fine for saltwater dumping, expect appeal to district court,” Mike Nowatzki, April 20, 2016