Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Aldisert, Chief Judge, Becker, Circuit Judge, and Stern, District Judge.*fn*
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania finds itself between a rock and a hard place. A consent decree entered in August 1978 by the federal court commands it to implement a vehicle emission inspection and maintenance program. At the same time, its own state court system by an order dated January 9, 1984, enjoins it from carrying out the federal decree. The January Pennsylvania court order implemented a decision by that state's supreme court determining that the parties to the federal consent decree lacked the authority to consent to establishing and implementing an auto emissions inspection program and ordered that "an injunction should issue enjoining [the state] from performing the terms and conditions of the consent decree." Scanlon v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 502 Pa. 577, 590, 467 A.2d 1108, 1115 (1983).
Bearing such formidable instructions from its own court system, the Commonwealth applied for relief in the district court under motions pursuant to Rule 60(b), Federal Rules of Civil procedure, to vacate the 1978 consent decree.*fn1 The district court refused relief, and this appeal followed. We affirm.*fn2
Although our court is no stranger to this marathon litigation, see 674 F.2d 970 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 458 U.S. 1125, 103 S. Ct. 14, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1400 (1982), 674 F.2d 976 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 905, 103 S. Ct. 206, 74 L. Ed. 2d 165 (1982), 674 F.2d 987 (1982), 678 F.2d 470 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 969, 103 S. Ct. 298, 74 L. Ed. 2d 280 (1982), a brief chronology of the critical events surrounding the procedural history is necessary. The Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air and others (Delaware Valley) and the United States separately sought a mandatory injunction in the federal courts to require Pennsylvania to implement a vehicle emission and maintenance program. Pennsylvania had failed to implement such a program as required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In August 1978 the Commonwealth parties entered into a consent decree with Delaware Valley and the United States obligating Pennsylvania to seek state legislation to establish a franchise inspection and maintenance system wherein the state would award contracts to individual persons to carry out the inspection function. The decree provided that if the necessary legislation were not enacted, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) would, under its own authority, establish a private garage inspection and maintenance system whereby the Commonwealth would certify private facilities to perform the inspections. Pennsylvania's General Assembly did not so act and PennDot proceeded under the second alternative to establish a private garage system.
In April and June, 1980, various Pennsylvania state legislators petitioned in the district court to intervene, arguing that their rights as legislators were being usurped by the enforcement of the consent decree. The district court denied intervention. On appeal, this court affirmed, 674 F.2d 970 (3d Cir. 1982), determining that the proposed intervenors were not entitled to intervene as a matter of right under Rule 24(a)(1), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, because the proposed intervenors failed to demonstrate that their interests were not adequately represented, and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying permissive intervention because of the untimeliness of the intervention petitions. The legislators' petition for certiorari was denied. 458 U.S. 1125, 103 S. Ct. 14, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1400 (1982).
In April 1981, Pennsylvania moved to modify the consent decree, seeking both an extension of time for implementation and a stay of the existing implementation order. The district court denied the motions and found that the Commonwealth was in violation of the consent decree. On appeal we affirmed, 674 F.2d 976 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 905, 103 S. Ct. 206, 74 L. Ed. 2d 165 (1982). In June 1981, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted H.B. 456, 71 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann § 523 (1981), which prohibited the expenditure of any funds for an emission inspection and maintenance program. In August 1981, various Pennsylvania state legislators filed actions in the state court seeking a declaratory judgment that the Pennsylvania parties lacked authority to enter into the federal court consent decree. In October 1981, Pennsylvania moved to modify the consent to have the Pennsylvania parties declared in civil contempt and requested sanctions.
In January 1982, the district court denied Pennsylvania's motion to modify and found the Commonwealth, the Secretary of PennDot, and the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources in civil contempt. As a sanction, the court ordered the Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation to refrain from approving any projects or awarding any grants for highways in areas in the Commonwealth covered by the consent decree other than for the purposes of safety, mass transit, or transportation projects related to air quality improvement or maintenance. On March 5, 1982, the EPA proposed to withhold Clean Air Act funds -- approximately $700,000 -- from PennDot and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources. The district court orders were affirmed by this court. 678 F.2d 470 (3d Cir. 1982). In affirming the district court, we asserted that the Commonwealth "itself was and remains bound by the consent decree," noting that the Pennsylvania Department of Justice, members of which were signatories of this decree, has the exclusive power to compromise and settle lawsuits against the Commonwealth. Id. at 475. Again the Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari. 459 U.S. 969, 103 S. Ct. 298, 74 L. Ed. 2d 280 (1982).
In May 1983, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted Act 3 of 1983, 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4706(b) (1983), which created an exception to H.B. 456, and permitted the establishment of an emission inspection and maintenance program when required by federal law and when necessary to avoid the loss of federal funds. Following enactment of this statute, the district court lifted the January sanctions.
In October 1983, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the state officials had no authority to enter into the federal consent decree in 1978, ruled that the federal decree was "a nullity," 502 Pa. at 590, 467 A.2d at 1115, and remanded the case to its Commonwealth Court which, in January 1984, enjoined PennDot from respecting the terms of the federal decree. In March 1984, the Commonwealth asked the district court to vacate the 1978 consent decree under motions brought under Rule 60(b)(5) and (6). The district court denied the motions in April 1984. This appeal followed.
We review the district court actions involved here under an abuse of discretion standard. United States Steel Corp. v. Fraternal Association of Steelhaulers, 601 F.2d 1269, 1274 (3d Cir. 1979). Understandably, the Commonwealth appellants contend that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to open the consent decree, arguing that Scanlon v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 502 Pa. 577, 467 A.2d 1108 (1983), compelled the district court to vacate the consent decree. Informed by its own court system that the federal consent decree was "a nullity," it asked to be relieved from the discomfort of being ordered by the federal court system to obey an injunction and ordered by its own state court system to ignore it. Because of the obvious comity sensitivities present, we are ...