American Legal History
McCastle? v. Rollins Environmental Services, Inc.

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-- JenniferAnderson - May 11, 2013

McCastle? v. Rollins Environmental Services, Inc.

McCastle? v. Rollins is a case that was filed on behalf of the residents of Alsen (a small community located in East Baton Rouge Parish), Louisiana against Rollins Environmental Services, Inc., and (a toxic waste cleaning company). Although the decision in this case allowed the plaintiffs within this community to be certified as a class, and allowed them to be viewed as a unit when filing their lawsuit, and thereby reversing the decision that had been made at the trial and appellate level, the case was not reheard in the lower courts. Instead, Rollins Environmental Services, Inc. settled with the plaintiffs outside of court. Although this case is primarily cited for what a group of people need to do in order to obtain class certification, it is also often cited as one of the pivotal moments in the environmental justice grass roots movement that has been occurring within communities of color. The people involved in the suit look at the way in which their community was disproportionately impacted by toxic waste polluters in light of their race and class, in comparison to communities that are composed of people who are racially and economically privileged. They then advocated for more considerate treatment by state regulators and operators of waste disposal plants. Through looking at the development of the McCastle? v. Rollins lawsuit, one can see the way in which class, race, legal claims, community activism, public health and environmentalism can be viewed and used in conjunction with one another to protect the rights of people living within a given community.



Alsen is a small community located in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Before the civil war, it was known as the Mount Pleasant plantation; after the civil war, slaves that were freed from that plantation and from neighboring plantations came and settled in that general area. The People who live there have a very close connection to the land. (Allen, 119) Alsen is just one community of color that has hosted corporations that pollute their communities. Alsen and other communities have come to be known as cancer alley. It is often cited as one of the most toxic areas in the country with residents claiming a number of ailments and health conditions. Cancer alley is the 107 mile stretch along the Mississippi river that runs between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. This area has over 150 environmental hazards and waste dumps that are located there. More than 60 percent of the facilities that release chemicals are located within communities that are populated by people of color (African Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans). Louisiana has policies and characteristics that are favorable to businesses. They are located off the Gulf of Mexico and are afloat in oil. (Schwab, 1994)In the 1960's, tax exemptions and business friendly policies that were made under Governor John McKeithen? , attracted many businesses to this area of Louisiana. (Burke 112) A lot of companies moved their operations to that state to take advantage of business friendly standards and policies that take a relaxed view of environmental standards and health issues. As a consequence, the land in Louisiana is some of the most industrially injured land in the United States. (Burke 111) More times than not, hazardous facilities were placed in areas that were composed primarily of people of color. Due to historical racism, people of color did not have a lot of political and social power and were unable to challenge the ways in which their communities were being changed.(Markowitz, 239) Often times local government and big business would exploit this group of people and as a consequence, the racism that had occurred during colonial times persisted. (Burke 111) Rollins Environmental Services, Incorporated was a company that had the fourth largest landfill in the country in 1986. At that time, it represented 11.3 percent of the permitted hazardous-waste capacity in the United States. (Schwab, 218) The facility opened in 1969 and had been operating to clean toxins since then.

Beginning of the Social Movement

The group of complainants involved in the McCastle? case is located in Alsen, and in communities outside of Alsen that are around the waste disposal plant. Around the time of the initial filing of the lawsuit in 1980, there were 1104 residents. African American composed 98.9 of those residents. More than 77 percent of the people who lived there owned their own homes; even though it had started out as a rural community that was primarily composed of African Americans, at the time it had become a working class neighborhood.(Schwab, 115) William Fontenot, an environmental advocate, met with McCastle? and a group of community members at her house in her living room to talk about the pollution that was creating the poisonous fumes. Many of the community members were not trusting of white people who came into their presence; they usually just came around to get votes. (Schwab, 219) Willie Fontenot was the one who linked the community group to the lawyers that would be able to help them push their lawsuit through the court system. This group claimed that Rollins Environmental Services was land farming sludge that was being produced by Exxon Corporation. Furthermore, this pollution was causing a host of health issues within the community. Mary McCastle? , a 75 year old grandmother, and a number of other local residents were determined to protect the health rights of other members within their communities. As a result, they formed the Coalition for Community Action. McCastle? and other local residents began to record the impact that these facilities had on the community members and the physical landscape of their localities. As Mary McCastle? stated:

We had no warning Rollins was coming in here. When they did come in we didn't know what they were dumping. We did know that it was making us sick. People used to have nice gardens and fruit trees. They lived off their gardens and only had to buy meat. Some of us raised hogs and chickens. But not after Rollins came in. Our gardens and animals were dying out. Some days the odors from the plant would be nearly unbearable. We didn't know what was causing it. We later found out that Rollins was burning hazardous waste. (Houck, 423) These claims were not limited to Mary McCastle? 's testimony. In addition, residents in this Louisiana community claimed the pollution from Rollins also produced health issues such as cancer, asthma, and heart disease.

This organization worked to have Rollins Environmental Services clean up some of the waste that they had disposed of for Exxon Mobil by reporting the practices of Rollins Environmental Services to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.[9] Even though residents were invited to watch Rollins Environmental Services clean up the waste that they had disposed of inappropriately, they didn't see much of the clean up getting done. Consequently, the group of residents followed up and filed a law suit on behalf of community members who had been adversely impacted.(Hackel, 10)

Law Suit

A group of residents that lived in Alsen, an East Baton Rouge Parish, and Louisiana filed a law suit against a chemical land farming operation, Rollins Environmental Services. There were approximately 4,000 residents that were part of the claim. They lived adjacent or in close proximity of the Rollins center and claimed that the land farming; had polluted the air and caused them injury.(McCastle? v. Rollins 615) They were represented by Steve Irving and Dennis R. Whalen. There were two things that the claimants were trying to achieve. One was class certification and the other was to obtain damages and an injunction for the Rollins facility to stop their operation which was polluting the community. In terms of class certification at the trial court level, the group of plaintiffs was denied class certification because the court perceived their injuries to be too divergent, not easy to identify, and the plaintiffs wanted large damages. At the Appeal level, the court confirmed the findings of the trial court. The appeals court didn't think that dealing with the claims of the members of the community together would create judicial economy. The Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed the findings of the trial and appeals court and said that it would be impractical to have all of the separate plaintiffs file separate briefs since they are similar enough. In order to determine whether it was appropriate to deem the people involved in this case should be part of a larger class, the court went through a process of analysis. Common Character Analysis ( As laid out in La.C.C.P. articles 591(1) and 592 and exemplified in Guste v. General Motors Corp. 370 So. 2d 477, Williams v. State, 350 So.2d 131 (La.1977), and Stevens v. Board of Trustees, 309 So.2d 144 (La.1975)). [12] The three Requirements are: 1. A class so numerous that joinder is impracticable, and 2. The joinder as parties to the suit one or more persons who are (a) Members of the class, and (b) So situated as to provide adequate representation for absent members of the class, and 3. A "common character" among the rights of the representatives of the class and the absent members of the class.

The appellate acknowledged that the class in the Alsen case had the first two characters that are necessary to be accepted as a class but not the common character factor. (Rollins v. McCastle? , 616). Through doing an analysis of the Common Character, the court determined that the group of people who went to trial for this case fulfilled all of the qualities that would be necessary for a group of people to be considered a (Rollins v. McCastle? ,617).

Effecting Substantive law (Rollins v. McCastle? , 618)

- Class actions deal with issues that may not otherwise be litigated

- They allow the court to see what the ramifications of their decision will be on the interested plaintiffs and the liability on the defendant.

- The interests of absentees would be taken into account

Judicial efficiency (Rollins v. McCastle? , 619)

- Necessary to achieve economies of time, effort, and expense

- The Supreme Court determined that the lower courts had not appropriately characterized the types of harms various people felt. They claimed the same harms, the same causes of the harm, and lived within the general vicinity of one another

Individual fairness (Rollins v. McCastle? , 621)

- This involves the uniformity of the decision among the members of the class.

- Each of the people in the class is asserting a similar, if not identical claim.

Through walking through these claims, the court determined that it was practical for litigation to proceed as a class. The certification was approved and the plaintiff's case was sent to lower court to be reevaluated. In terms of the injunction and the damages, the case was remanded back to the lower court to determine what actions should be taken against the facility and what types of damages the members of the community would receive. (McCastle? v. Rollins, 621)Under the authority of 28 USCS 1441, the court was able to assert the injunction so that the facility would stop emitting toxic fumes into the atmosphere.

Aftermath of the Case

After the court decision that said that the group could be certified as a class, the case was settled outside of court in 1987. Each of the plaintiffs received between $500 and $3,000 dollars. The Alsen Community did not receive the health clinic that they had hoped to receive. The Rollins Environment Services, Inc. facility that was at the center of the lawsuit is now closed. Immediately after the suit, it was not closed, but the performance of the facility did improve. (Schwab, 222) Also it was perceived as a problematic depositor of chemical waste. In 1989 the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, that had members from the Alsen community who had been negatively impacted by environmental and health conditions, were able to successfully prevent the expansion of the Rollins' facilities. (Allen, 119) In 1992, The Coalition for Community Action was successful in obtaining a technical assistance grant (TAG) from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to obtain cleanup in an area called the Devil's swamp which is also located in the East Baton Rouge Parish. (Bullard) The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic has worked with the North Baton Rouge Environmental Association and has helped them have many of their claims heard.[17]

Social Implications

Although this was seen as a class action case, it was one of the first Environmental Justice Cases within the nation. The protests that occurred in Warren, North Carolina is often seen as the first environmental justice movement even though that protest started in 1982 and residents in Alsen began to take note of the negative health effects that Rollins Environmental Services in 1976. (Hackel, 9) At the time that protests began in Alsen, people within the community did not have many examples of people of color leading these movements. (Schwab, 218) Mary McCastle? would then prove to be a role model for African-American environmental activists in Louisiana years after the Rollins case was litigated and settled. (Schwab, 218) After the community settled with Rollins, McCastle? used her money to travel to different parts in the south, speak in front of churches and schools, and help people gain awareness about the environmental harms that were occurring in their communities. (Schwab, 222)

It has been hard for people who are negatively impacted by the polluters in Louisiana to obtain change. Many of the people who benefit from the plants being in Louisiana, white workers who are employed there and plant officials, are resistant to acknowledging that these industries create problems. (Hackel, 41-43) Through the actions of the community, more attention was brought to how the Rollins facilities were operating. Before the filing and the realization of this lawsuit, the facilities were able to do whatever they want. One legacy of the environmental justice movement in Alsen was the fight against Supplemental Fuels incorporated (SFI). Although the company tried to locate its facilities in a community where they thought that people would not fight back, they were met by opposing black and white forces. After a long court battle, the company left Louisiana. This incidence showed that when communities come together to challenge people who want to move into their communities they can be successful. (Allen, 18) The group that was able to effectively drive out SFI may not have been able to do so if Mary McCastle? had not demonstrated that it was possible.

Court Cases

McCastle? v. Rollins Environmental Services, 514 F. Supp. 936 (1981) McCastle? v. Rollins Environmental Services, Inc., 415 So. 2d 515 (1982) McCastle? v. Rollins Environmental Services, Inc., 456 So. 2d 612 (1984)

Primary Sources

Attached to this article

Activists Begin 10 Day March In Protest Of Cancer Alley:Protesters march to change conditions in their area. This is after the strength that McCastle? and the Alsen community showed against Rollins. This is a demonstration of the lasting impact that McCastle? 's action had the community. After the movement she started, people of color in low income communities were able to name the force that was working against them and do something to challenge its control.

Environmental Racism in Cancer Alley, 190: A graph that shows the correlation between race and the disposal of waste material in Louisiana. This graph shows that where that there is a positive correlation between the amount of hazardous waste that is put out into the community and the race of the members in the community. This type of information supports the need for environmental justice in the United States.

Springfield Road Diagram: This is an illustration done by one of the residents in Alsen. Due to the close proximity to the Rollins Environment Services, Inc. facility, people within this area face a number of health issues. This diagram shows the various health issues that people along this street face including sinus problems, breathing problems, and cancer.

The Community of Alsen: Many people within the community drew diagrams of the toxic waste centers that were located around heir neighborhood. This map is demonstrative of what was occurring around and within the community of Alsen. Around major land marks within the city there were various toxic waste dumps.

Interview with Steve Irving: This is a recording and a transcript of an interview Steve Irving, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the McCastle? v. Rollins case. He is a lawyer in Louisiana who took on the case in the early 1980s at time when a lot of attention wasn’t given to cases that involved environmental justice. Through working with the community members and filing lawsuits against Rollins Environmental Services, Irving was able to challenge the ways in which Louisiana dealt with companies that deposited waste material around low income communities of color.

Mounting Problems in New Pollution Belt Threaten Image, Environment An AP Extra: A news article that discusses problems with how toxic waste facilities have been set. Within New Orleans, permits were granted for facilities to operate without setting up safeguards for the community. Although the area is polluted it is not too late for there to be genuine cleanup efforts. It would be costly but it is necessary in order to protect the health of current and future residents of Alsen.

70'S Toxic Waste Disposal Opens Questions On Dioxin: There is a history of Rollins committing environmental harms to areas around the Baton Rouge area in Louisiana. This article talks about trouble that Rollins ran into surrounding a similar type of environmental and health harm. They had been irresponsibly with how they dealt with the toxic byproducts that were being released into the community.

Rollins is Denied Permit to Build two incinerators: Rollins attempted to obtain an expansion of its facilities but the state government denied their request. They were granted a permit to operate their facilities for the next ten years. The article mentions that it is increasingly hard for waste companies to obtain permits to get rid of hazardous waste. It mentions that although Rollins was able to skate by the strict standards that have recently been imposed other facilities have not been as fortunate. A similarly situated company was not afforded the opportunity to conintue to produce

Secondary Sources

Allen, Brenda. Uneasy Alchemy. The MIT Press

Bullard, Robert. Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color. The Sierra Club

Hackel, Angela. "Citizen Perspective on Environmental Hazards in Cancer Alley". Retrieved April 9, 2012.


Markowitz, Gerald and David Rosner. Deceit and Denial; The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution

Motavalli, Jim. Toxic Targets; Polluters that Dump on Communities of Color Are Finally Being Brought to Justice

Schwab, Jim. "Deeper Shade of Green: the rise of blue-color and minority environmentalism in America". The Sierra Club.


  • This is the leader of the environmental Justice Movement.:


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r9 - 11 May 2013 - 08:03:29 - JenniferAnderson
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