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By: Sean Riley
In Del. River Joint Toll Bridge Comm’n v. Sec’y Pa. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., No. 20-1898, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 895, at *2 (3d Cir. Jan. 12, 2021) the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that Pennsylvania had ceded its authority to enforce building safety regulations for the construction of an administrative office in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Nearly 100 years ago, Pennsylvania and New Jersey enacted laws creating the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, authorizing the Commission to not only administer, operate and maintain toll bridges crossing the Delaware River but to also acquire real property and to make improvements thereon to the extent necessary to discharge its duties. In 2017, the Commission undertook a project to replace the Scudder Falls Bridge that connects Bucks County, Pennsylvania with Mercer County, New Jersey. As part of that project, the Commission purchased ten acres of land near the bridge on the Pennsylvania side of the river and broke ground on the Scudder Falls Administration Building, which would house the Commission’s staff in a single location. A year later, inspectors with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor took issue with the fact that the Commission had proceeded with construction without having applied for a building permit, as required under the Department’s regulations. The Department threatened to issue a stop-work order for want of a permit; however, the Commission maintained that it was exempt from Pennsylvania’s regulatory authority and continued with construction. Undeterred, the Department turned its attention to the Commission’s elevator subcontractor, threatening it with regulatory sanctions for its involvement in the project. The Commission filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that the Department lacked authority to enforce Pennsylvania’s building regulations pursuant to the inter-state compact.
The District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted the Commission’s request, holding that the Commission’s new administrative office was not subject to Pennsylvania’s building regulations as the authority to enforce such regulations had been ceded in the compact between the states. On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed, establishing precedent that such buildings and other construction projects engaged in by the Commission and its contractors are wholly exempt from state safety regulations.
For more information, please contact Sean Riley at [email protected].