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CITY OF NEW YORK v. RUCKELSHAUS

May 8, 1973

The CITY OF NEW YORK, on behalf of itself and all other similarly situated municipalities, Plaintiff, The City of Detroit, Plaintiff-Intervenor,
v.
William D. RUCKELSHAUS, as Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Defendant


Gasch, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH

This is an action for a declaratory judgment and mandamus to compel the defendant, William D. Ruckelshaus, until recently Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("the Administrator") to comply with the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, 86 Stat. 816 (hereafter termed "the Act"). *fn1" Plaintiff is the City of New York, suing on behalf of itself and all similarly situated municipalities within the State of New York. The City of Detroit has been granted leave to intervene as a party plaintiff seeking the same relief. The action is brought pursuant to § 505(e) of the Act and 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706; jurisdiction is alleged on the grounds of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332, and 1361.

 Plaintiff and plaintiff-intervenor allege that § 205(a), taken together with § 207, of the Act requires the Administrator to allot among the states the sums of $5 billion for fiscal year 1973 and $6 billion for fiscal year 1974, thereby making such sums available for obligation on sewage treatment works construction approved by the Administrator for federal funding. It is further alleged that the Administrator has violated this statutory requirement by promulgating, at the express direction of the President of the United States, a regulation, effective December 8, 1972, *fn2" which allotted among the states for fiscal years 1973 and 1974 "sums not to exceed $2 billion and $3 billion respectively." The case is now before the Court on plaintiff's motion to determine that this suit may be maintained as a class action, defendant's motion to dismiss, and the motions of plaintiff and plaintiff-intervenor for summary judgment. *fn3" Also before the Court for consideration are the pleadings, oppositions, affidavits, and argument by counsel in open Court.

 The Court's characterization and analysis of the issues in the case will be clearer if the mechanism set up under the Act for funding the construction of sewage treatment works is briefly outlined. The Act reverses the normal procedure whereby sums are appropriated by Congress and thereafter contractually obligated by the appropriate agency. Instead, Congress has, in § 207, authorized certain specific sums to be appropriated to carry out the purposes of Title II of the Act, Grants for Construction of Treatment Works. The Administrator is required by § 205 to allot the sums among the states according to a time schedule and needs formula set up under the Act. *fn4" (Whether the full sums authorized to be appropriated must be allotted or only a portion of them -- the size of the portion being within the Administrator's discretion -- is the central issue disputed by the parties.) Once allotted, the sums become available for obligation, i.e., contract authority exists up to those amounts. The Administrator reviews grant applications submitted by States and municipalities for federal funding of particular waste treatment projects to determine whether they satisfy criteria set forth in the Act, e.g., in § 204. Once the Administrator approves the plans, specifications, and estimates for a project, a contractual obligation arises to pay the federal share allocable to that project. *fn5" Funds are then appropriated to liquidate the obligations as they fall due; the final step, actual disbursement of the funds, is then made. It is clear from this sequence that allotment is not tantamount to expenditure or even commitment of the funds.

 Having set forth the framework of the Act within which the dispute now before the Court has arisen, the Court will proceed to the issues. First to be dealt with are jurisdictional issues raised in the defendant's motion to dismiss and his opposition to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. Defendant contends that this Court lacks the requisite jurisdiction because the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars the suit and because the action fails to present a justiciable case or controversy. The Court does not agree with these contentions and will deal with them only briefly. *fn6"

 Two well-settled common law exceptions to the doctrine of sovereign immunity are set forth in two cases cited by defendant, Dugan v. Rank, 372 U.S. 609, 621-622, 83 S. Ct. 999, 10 L. Ed. 2d 15 (1963), and Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corporation, 337 U.S. 682, 689-690, 69 S. Ct. 1457, 93 L. Ed. 1628 (1949); and plaintiff's action falls squarely within the exception covering suits challenging actions by federal officers which go beyond the scope of their statutory powers. Defendant is not aided by the general rule set forth in Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 738, 67 S. Ct. 1009, 1012, 91 L. Ed. 1209 (1947), to the effect that where the judgment sought "would expend itself on the public treasury or domain, or interfere with the public administration," the suit is in reality brought against the sovereign; for as subsequent discussion will reveal, the relief sought by plaintiff in this action does not require the expenditure of unappropriated public funds (or indeed of any public funds at all), nor will it interfere with the lawful exercise of defendant's discretionary powers under the Act.

 A second reason for rejecting the sovereign immunity defense as a bar to this action is the fact that plaintiff is seeking review in part on the basis of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706; the rule in this Circuit is that the A.P.A. constitutes a waiver of sovereign immunity in actions to which it applies. Scanwell Laboratories, Inc. v. Shaffer, 137 U.S. App. D.C. 371, 385, 424 F.2d 859, 873 (1970); Constructores Civiles de Centroamerica, S.A. v. Hannah, 148 U.S. App. D.C. 159, 459 F.2d 1183 (1972). Defendant has sought to distinguish Scanwell by contending that there was no question there of any "disposition" of government funds, whereas the instant case presents a "demand" for such funds. As already indicated, this argument must fail because defendant has misconstrued the nature of the relief sought. Plaintiff is demanding only that funds be allotted as, in its view, Congress required.

 Defendant contends that this action fails, for two reasons, to present a justiciable case or controversy. First it is argued that the action is hypothetical and premature and hence does not fall within the limits of federal court jurisdiction as defined by Article III of the Constitution. It is true that Article III confines federal courts to the adjudication of cases and controversies and forbids the rendering of advisory opinions. Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103, 108, 89 S. Ct. 956, 22 L. Ed. 2d 113 (1969). Where a declaratory judgment is sought, the plaintiff must show a "substantial controversy between parties having adverse legal interests of sufficient immediacy and reality" to warrant its issuance. Maryland Casualty Company v. Pacific Coal & Oil Company, 312 U.S. 270, 273, 61 S. Ct. 510, 512, 85 L. Ed. 826 (1941). Defendant contends that because plaintiff has no guarantee that projects for which it seeks funding under the Act will be approved, refusal to allot, and thus make available for obligation, the full amounts authorized to be appropriated in § 207 of the Act does not amount to action that is adverse to any real or immediate interests of plaintiff. This argument fails on several grounds. Plaintiff has filed an affidavit of the Commissioner of the Department of Water Resources for the City of New York averring that the City has received approval from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for two waste treatment projects, and that because of the reduced allotments, plaintiff's share of available federal funds "will permit only a token start toward completion." (Affidavit of Martin Lang dated April 3, 1973, paras. 5-6). *fn7" Defendant has not disputed these assertions of fact. Even were plaintiff's grant application still under study, however, there would be more than a merely speculative injury; for as affidavits filed by both plaintiff and plaintiff-intervenor indicate, the reduction in allotments has resulted in serious planning delays that will necessarily retard the development of sewage treatment facilities. (Affidavit of Martin Lang, dated February 8, 1973, para. 11; affidavit of Gerald Remus, dated March 15, 1973, para. 12). The seriousness of the planning problem was understood by Congress. It was one of the reasons for utilizing the device of allotment, thereby making funds available for obligation, in lieu of the ordinary appropriations procedure.

 Congressman William Harsha, one of the managers of the bill, observed during debate on a proposed amendment to H.R. 11896 *fn8" which would have substituted the normal appropriations process for the allotment mechanism that "it is essential that the States, the interstate agencies and the cities have both the ability for and a basis for long-range planning, construction scheduling and financing waste treatment plants, including the sale of bonds that they have to sometimes negotiate." 118 Cong. Rec. H2727 (daily ed. March 29, 1972). When there is uncertainty concerning how much will be allotted in a given year, municipalities cannot properly plan the scale of projects for which to seek federal funding.

 Still another way in which plaintiff is injured by the Administrator's refusal to allot the full amount of the sums authorized to be appropriated by § 207 lies in the permanent loss of funds not allotted at the appropriate time. Such funds can not thereafter be made available for obligation even if grant applications which, in the Administrator's determination, meet all the requirements of the Act are submitted and the current allocations are insufficient to pay the authorized federal share.

 Defendant's other ground for urging the Court to find the subject matter of this action nonjusticiable is the contention that the matter at issue is a "political question" which the Court is barred from considering by reason of the doctrine of separation of powers. Certainly it is true that this Court could not decide a case if it presented a political question. Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 518, 89 S. Ct. 1944, 23 L. Ed. 2d 491 (1969); Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433, 59 S. Ct. 972, 83 L. Ed. 1385 (1939). Criteria to be used in determining whether a political question is presented have been set forth by the Supreme Court in Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 217, 82 S. Ct. 691, 710, 7 L. Ed. 2d 663 (1962). There Mr. Justice Brennan, writing for the majority, declared:

 
Prominent on the surface of any case held to involve a political question is found a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department; or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it; or the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion; or the impossibility of a court's undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of the respect due coordinate branches of government; or an unusual need for unquestioning adherence ...

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