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Alec L., et al v. Lisa P. Jackson

May 31, 2012

ALEC L., ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
LISA P. JACKSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS,
AND
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MANUFACTURERS, ET AL. INTERVENORS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert L. Wilkins United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Five young citizens and two organizations, Kids v. Global Warming*fn1 and Wildearth Guardians*fn2 , bring this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for Defendants' alleged failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Plaintiffs allege that Defendants have violated their fiduciary duties to preserve and protect the atmosphere as a commonly shared public trust resource under the public trust doctrine. Plaintiffs' one-count complaint does not allege that the defendants violated any specific federal law or constitutional provision, but instead alleges violations of the federal public trust doctrine.

Plaintiffs bring this suit against Lisa P. Jackson in her official capacity as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), Kenneth L. Salazar in his official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Thomas J. Vilsack in his official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Gary F. Locke in his official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Steven Chu in his official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, and Leon E. Panetta in his official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense. Plaintiffs allege that each of the Defendants, as agencies and officers of the federal government, "have wasted and failed to preserve and protect the atmosphere Public Trust asset." (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 138, 146). Two parties claiming an interest in this action have intervened.*fn3

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' and the Defendant-Intervenors' Motions to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Defendants and Defendant-Intervenors move for dismissal arguing, inter alia, that because Plaintiffs' lone claim is grounded in state common law, the complaint does not raise a federal question to invoke this Court's jurisdiction and, therefore, warrants dismissal on jurisdictional grounds. Having considered the full briefing on these motions, and for the reasons set forth below, Defendants and Defendant-Intervenors' motions are granted and Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

I.BACKGROUND

A.Public Trust Doctrine

The public trust doctrine can be traced back to Roman civil law, but its principles are grounded in English common law on public navigation and fishing rights over tidal lands. PLL Montana, LLC v. Montana, 565 U.S. ----, 132 S. Ct. 1213, 1234 (2012). "At common law, the title and dominion in lands flowed by the tide water were in the King for the benefit of the nation . . . Upon the American Revolution, these rights, charged with a like trust, were vested in the original States within their respective borders." Phillips Petroleum v. Mississippi, 484 U.S. 469, 473 (1988) (quoting Shively v. Bowlby, 152 U.S. 1 (1894)). Upon entry into the Union, the states received ownership of all lands under waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide. Id. at 476. The states' right to use or dispose of such lands, however, is limited to the extent that it would cause "substantial impairment of the interest of the public in the waters," and the states' right to the water is subject to "the paramount right of [C]ongress to control their navigation so far as may be necessary for the regulation of commerce with foreign nations and among the states." Ill. Cent. R.R. Co. v. Illinois, 146 U.S. 387, 435 (1892). Thus, traditionally, the doctrine has functioned as a restraint on the states' ability to alienate submerged lands in favor of public access to and enjoyment of the waters above those lands.

More recently, courts have applied the public trust doctrine in a variety of contexts. See e.g. District of Columbia v. Air Florida, Inc. 750 F.2d 1077, 1083 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (noting that "the doctrine has been expanded to protect additional water-related uses such as swimming and similar recreation, aesthetic enjoyment of rivers and lakes, and preservation of flora and fauna indigenous to public trust lands.").*fn4 And while Plaintiffs have cited authority for the application of the doctrine in numerous natural resources, including "groundwater, wetlands, dry sand beaches, non-navigable tributaries, and wildlife" (Pls.' Opp. at 17-18), they have cited no cases, and the Court is aware of none, that have expanded the doctrine to protect the atmosphere or impose duties on the federal government. Therefore, the manner in which Plaintiffs seek to have the public trust doctrine applied in this case represents a significant departure from the doctrine as it has been traditionally applied.

B.The Relief Requested by Plaintiffs

Plaintiffs seek a variety of declaratory and injunctive relief for their public trust claim.*fn5

First, Plaintiffs ask the Court to declare that the atmosphere is a public trust resource and that the United States government, as a trustee, has a fiduciary duty to refrain from taking actions that waste or damage this asset. Plaintiffs also ask the Court to declare that, to date, Defendants have violated their fiduciary duties by contributing to and allowing unsafe amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. In addition, Plaintiffs ask the Court to further define Defendants' fiduciary duties under the public trust by declaring that the six Defendant federal agencies have a duty to reduce global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to less than 350 parts per million during this century.

With respect to injunctive relief, Plaintiffs have asked this Court to issue an injunction directing the six federal agencies to take all necessary actions to enable carbon dioxide emissions to peak by December 2012 and decline by at least six percent per year beginning in 2013. Plaintiffs also ask the Court to order Defendants to submit for this Court's approval: annual reports setting forth an accounting of greenhouse gas emissions originated by the United States and its citizens; annual carbon budgets that are consistent with the goal of capping carbon dioxide emissions and reducing emissions by six percent per year; and a climate recovery plan to achieve Plaintiffs' carbon dioxide emission reduction goals.*fn6

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, with the ability to hear only the cases entrusted to them by a grant of power contained in either the Constitution or in an act of Congress. See, e.g., Beethoven.com LLC v. Librarian of Congress, 394 F.3d 939, 945 (D.C. Cir. 2005); Hunter v. District of Columbia, 384 F. Supp. 2d 257, 259 (D.D.C. 2005). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the Court has jurisdiction. See Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence United with the Million Mom March v. Ashcroft, 339 F. Supp. 2d 68, 72 (D.D.C. 2004). Under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court may dispose of the motion on the basis of the complaint alone, or it may consider materials beyond the pleadings "as it deems appropriate to resolve the question whether it has ...


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