T&K Secures Key Win Before Texas Supreme Court in Plastic Bag Case

AUSTIN – The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday the City of Laredo’s ban on single-use plastic bags is invalid and cannot be enforced. Thompson & Knight attorneys James B. Harris and Richard B. Phillips Jr. represented the Laredo Merchants Association before the Court, which found that the city’s ordinance is preempted by a state law that is part of the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act.

That law prohibits municipalities from banning the sale or use of containers or packages if the ban is for a solid waste management purpose.

The Court concluded that the city’s ban runs afoul of the statute. The Court found that single-use plastic bags are “containers or packages” for purposes of the state law. “The ordinance’s stated purposes are to reduce litter and eliminate trash – in sum, to manage solid waste, which the act pre-empts. The ordinance cannot fairly be read any other way,” wrote Chief Justice Nathan Hecht in a unanimous opinion.

“In our view, the Court correctly found that the city’s ordinance is preempted by state law,” said Mr. Phillips. “The Legislature has made a policy choice that these issues should be addressed state-wide, not in a patchwork of differing ordinances across the state. The Court correctly enforced that policy choice.”

The City of Laredo had argued that the state law did not apply to bans on single-use bags and that the ban was a proper exercise of the city’s powers.

Chief Justice Hecht also noted the ongoing friction between local governments and state leaders.

“The roving, roiling debate over local control of public affairs has not, with increased age, lost any of its vigor,” he wrote. “From public education to immigration policy to fracking to shopping bags, the sides are always deeply divided. Our duty is to apply the rules fairly and equally to both sides.” But, he noted, “the wisdom or expediency of the law is the Legislature’s prerogative, not ours.”