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Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Comm’n v. Sec. PA Dep’t Labor and Indus.

3rd Circuit

January 12, 2021

Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Comm’n v. Sec. PA Dep’t Labor and Indus. was a dispute about an interstate compact between PA and NJ that created the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. The Commission obtained a declaratory judgment that prohibited the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry from regulating aspects of the Commission’s new Scudder Falls Administration Building in Bucks Co., PA. The  Secretary appealed and claimed the District Court erred by holding that PA ceded its sovereign authority to enforce its building safety regulations when it entered into the Compact. The 3rd Circuit affirmed, holding that the District Court had jurisdiction over the dispute because the Commission’s suit sought prospective relief to prevent an ongoing violation of federal law by the Secretary. Thus, the suit fell squarely within an exception to sovereign immunity. The 3rd Circuit then ruled that the Compact’s text unambiguously ceded PA’s sovereign authority over building safety regulations. Furthermore, the fact that PA and NJ expressly reserved their taxing power—but not other powers—supported the District Court’s conclusion the states did not intend to retain the authority to enforce building safety regulations.

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