Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
North American Butterfly Association v. Wolf
National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden owned by the nonprofit North American Butterfly Association, lies along the border with Mexico. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) planned to build a segment of the border wall through the Center. The Association sued, citing the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and two environmental statutes. DHS has not analyzed the environmental impact of border wall-related activities at the Center (42 U.S.C. 4332(2)(C)), nor consulted with other federal agencies about how to minimize the impact of those activities on endangered species. An appropriation act subsequently prohibited funding for border fencing at the Center.The district court dismissed all claims, citing the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, 8 U.S.C. 1103, as stripping jurisdiction over the statutory claims because the DHS Secretary waived the application of environmental laws with respect to the construction of roads and physical barriers at the Center.The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part, first holding that the claims were not moot and that jurisdiction over the statutory claims was not stripped by IIRIRA, nor was review channeled directly to the Supreme Court. The court held that DHS’s waiver determination defeats the statutory claims, that the Association failed to state a Fourth Amendment claim of unreasonable seizure of property it acknowledges to be “open fields,” but that the Association stated a procedural due process claim under the Fifth Amendment. View "North American Butterfly Association v. Wolf" on Justia Law
Utility Solid Waste Activities v. Environmental Protection Agency
Coal residuals, “one of the largest industrial waste streams,” contain myriad carcinogens and neurotoxins. Power plants generally store it on site in aging piles or pools, risking protracted leakage and catastrophic structural failure. Regulations implementing the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6901, were long delayed. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), facing public outrage over catastrophic failures at toxic coal residual sites, and directed by a federal court to comply with its obligations under RCRA, promulgated its first Final Rule regulating coal residuals in 2015, 80 Fed. Reg. 21,302. Opponents challenged that Rule under the Administrative Procedure Act and RCRA, which requires EPA to promulgate criteria distinguishing permissible “sanitary landfills” from prohibited “open dumps.” Each claim relates to how coal residuals disposal sites qualify as sanitary landfills. EPA announced its intent to reconsider the Rule. The D.C. Circuit denied the EPA’s abeyance motion; remanded as to pile-size and beneficial-use issues; vacated 40 C.F.R. 257.101, which allows for the continued operation of unlined impoundments and a provision that treats “clay-lined” units as if they were lined; found the Rule’s “legacy ponds” exemption unreasoned and arbitrary; rejected claims by industry members that EPA may regulate only active impoundments; found that EPA provided sufficient notice of its intention to apply aquifer location criteria to existing impoundments; and held that EPA did not arbitrarily issue location requirements based on seismic impact zones nor arbitrarily impose temporary closure procedures. View "Utility Solid Waste Activities v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law
Kingman Park Civic Ass’n v. Bowser
The Association has successfully applied to the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board to have the former Spingarn Senior High School designated a historic landmark. Next to Spingarn is Langston Terrace, a 13-acre public housing complex built in the 1930s as segregated housing for African Americans. The Association now challenges the District's development of a streetcar program and Car Barn that would be centered in this neighborhood. The district court rejected the Association's claims in dismissals for failure to state a claim and summary judgment. The City Council passed the “Wire Acts” to allow the construction of aerial wires to supply streetcars with power: Transportation Infrastructure Emergency Amendment Act of 2010, D.C. Act 18-486; Transportation Infrastructure Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2010, D.C. Act 18-583; Transportation Infrastructure Amendment Act of 2010, D.C. Act 18-684 (codified at D.C. Code 9-1171(a)). Determining that the Association has standing, the court concluded that taking into account the Home Rule Act's, District. D.C. Code 1-201.02(a), 1-206.02(a), stated purpose, the Wire Acts do not violate an 1888 statute barring the District from authorizing telegraph, telephone, electric lighting or other wires, D.C. Code 34-1901.01. The court upheld that district court's dismissal of the Association's environmental impact statement (EIS) claim. The court rejected the Association's Equal Protection claim, concluding that the project and the associated site selection appear to have been facially neutral and to serve legitimate government purposes. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Kingman Park Civic Ass'n v. Bowser" on Justia Law
Ctr. for Sustainable Econ. v. Jewell
The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) extends roughly 200 miles into the ocean to the limit of U.S. international-law jurisdiction. Billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas lie beneath the OCS. Concerns about ecological vulnerability and potential harm to coastal tourism led to moratoriums on OCS drilling from 1982 until they were partially lifted in 2009. In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster renewed debate about the safety of offshore drilling, but energy companies remain interested in offshore drilling. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) created a framework for exploration and extraction of OCS oil and gas deposits. It requires the Secretary of the Interior to prepare a program every five years with a schedule of proposed leases for OCS resource exploration and development; the program must balance competing economic, social, and environmental values, 43 U.S.C. 1344. CSE challenged the latest leasing program as failing to comply with Section 18(a), which governs the balancing of competing economic, social, and environmental values; quantifying and assessing environmental and ecological impact; and ensuring equitable distribution of benefits and costs between OCS regions and stakeholders. CSE claimed that the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement violated National Environmental Policy Act procedural requirements by using a biased analytic methodology and providing inadequate opportunities for public comment. The D.C. Circuit denied CSE’s petition. While CSE had associational standing to petition for review, its NEPA claims are unripe; two other challenges were forfeited and remaining challenges failed on their merits. View "Ctr. for Sustainable Econ. v. Jewell" on Justia Law
Minisink Residents for Enviro., et al. v. FERC
Petitioners challenged the Commission's approval of a proposal for the construction of a natural gas compressor station in the Town of Minisink, New York. Petitioners argued, among other things, that the Commission's approval of the project was arbitrary and capricious, particularly given the existence of a nearby alternative site (the Wagoner Alternative) they insist is better than the Minisink locale. The court concluded that the Commission's consideration of the Wagoner Alternative falls within the bounds of its discretion and the court had no basis to upset the Commission's application of its Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717-717z, authority on this point; the court was satisfied that the Commission properly considered cumulative impacts of the Minisink Project; the court reject petitioners' argument that the Minisink Project violates the siting guidelines; and the court rejected petitioners' claims of procedural errors. Accordingly, the court denied the petitions for review. View "Minisink Residents for Enviro., et al. v. FERC" on Justia Law
Sheptock v. Fenty
This case stemmed from the closure of the Franklin Shelter, an overnight facility for homeless men in downtown Washington D.C. On appeal, plaintiffs alleged that the closure violated federal and D.C. antidiscrimination statutes. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal on res judicata grounds because plaintiffs could have raised these claims in two prior Superior Court cases. View "Sheptock v. Fenty" on Justia Law
City of Jersey City, et al. v. Consolidated Rail Corp., et al.
This case arose when Conrail sold its Harsimus Embankment in Jersey City to developers. The City, together with others interested in the historic and environmental value of the Embankment, sued Conrail alleging that the sale was unlawful because Conrail failed to obtain authority from the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to abandon the property. The district court dismissed the case for lack of standing. The court reversed and remanded, concluding that the City enjoyed Article III standing where Conrail's refusal to invoke STB proceedings injured the City by depriving it of the benefits of those proceedings and the City's injury could be redressed by a district court ruling that the Embankment qualified as "railroad line" that Conrail could not abandon without STB approval. View "City of Jersey City, et al. v. Consolidated Rail Corp., et al." on Justia Law
Sierra Club, et al. v. Antwerp, et al.
Plaintiffs, three environmental groups, brought suit in district court to challenge issuance of a permit authorizing the discharge of dredge and fill material into specified wetlands outside Tampa, Florida. Plaintiffs invoked three statutes: the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4332(C), the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1311(a), 1362(7), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. 1536(a)(2). The district court issued a decision finding that defendants had not fully complied with its obligations under NEPA and the CWA, but rejected plaintiffs' ESA claim, granting summary judgment for plaintiffs on the first two claims and for defendants on the third. The court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, concluding that defendants did satisfy the demands of the three relevant statutes, except for failing to respond, in its treatment of the NEPA and ESA requirements, to a material contention as to the project's impact on an endangered species, the eastern indigo snake. View "Sierra Club, et al. v. Antwerp, et al." on Justia Law
In re: Aiken County
Three state and local governmental units, along with individual citizens, petitioned the court for review of and other relief from two "determinations" made by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the other respondents: the DOE's attempt to withdraw the application it submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a license to construct a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada; and the DOE's apparent decision to abandon development of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository. The court concluded that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 10101-270, set forth a process and schedule for the siting, construction, and operation of a federal repository for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. At this point in that process, the DOE had submitted a construction license application for the Yucca Mountain repository and the NRC maintained a statutory duty to review that application. Therefore, the court held that unless and until petitioners were able to demonstrate that one of the respondents had either violated a clear duty to act or otherwise affirmatively violated the law, petitioners' challenges to the ongoing administrative process was premature. Accordingly, the court held that it lacked jurisdiction over petitioners' claims and dismissed the petitions.
Amador County, California v. Kenneth Salazar, et al
The Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians ("Buena Vista") entered into a compact with California to engage in gaming on its tribal land and then petitioned the Secretary of the Interior ("Secretary") for approval of the compact. Amador County, in which Buena Vista's land was located, challenged the Secretary's "no-action" approval claiming that the land at issue failed to qualify as "Indian land." At issue was whether Amador County lacked constitutional standing to maintain the suit and whether a compact, that was deemed approved where he failed to act within the 45 day limit, was reviewable. The court held that Amador County had standing where its allegations were more than sufficient to establish concrete and particularized harm and where Amador County could easily satisfy the requirements of causation and redressability. The court also held that where, as here, a plaintiff alleged that a compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act ("IGRA"), 25 U.S.C. 2710(d)(8)(C), and required the Secretary to disapprove the compact, nothing in the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. 701(a)(2), precluded judicial review of a subsection (d)(8)(C) no-action approval. Accordingly, the court remanded to give the district court the opportunity to assess the merits of the suit.