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Gale Black, et al v. Ray Lahood

August 9, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge


For many years Klingle Road was a thoroughfare in Northwest Washington that connected areas to the east of Rock Creek Park with areas to the west. A 0.7-mile segment of the road that passed through the Park was closed in 1991 after deterioration rendered it unsafe for automobile and other uses. Although the District of Columbia in 2003 initiated a plan to reopen the road, the plan was never fully realized. Instead, in 2008, the D.C. Council passed a law mandating that that strip of road be closed permanently to motor vehicles. Three years later, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved a proposal to construct a multi-use trail (for pedestrians, cyclists, etc.) along the closed portion of Klingle Road.

Individual D.C. residents who live near the affected area have now filed suit alleging that the approval of the trail project is unlawful and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. This pro se action names as Defendants the following federal officials: Secretary of the Department of Transportation Ray LaHood, Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ron Machen, and Mary Peters and Roberto Fonseco-Martinez of FHWA (Federal Defendants). In addition, Plaintiffs are suing Irvin Nathan, the Attorney General for the District, and Terry Bellamy, the Director of the D.C. Department of Transportation (District Defendants).

The Federal and District Defendants have now each filed a separate Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the Court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the case, and, even if it did, the Complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. While those Motions were pending, Plaintiffs moved for judgment on the pleadings. Because the Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to satisfy the causality and redressability requirements of standing, it will dismiss the case without prejudice for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Such a ruling, of course, renders Plaintiffs' own Motion moot.


A. Statutory Background

According to the Complaint, which the Court must presume true for purposes of these Motions, Klingle Road runs between Rock Creek Park and the National Cathedral. See Compl., Exh. 2 (Final Environmental Assessment (FEA)) at S.3. In 1991, a 0.7-mile segment of the road was closed to motor vehicles "due to severe deterioration of the roadway, headwalls, and underlying stormwater management systems." Id. Since then, the road has remained unsafe for vehicular as well as pedestrian and bicycle traffic because of "heaved and failed pavement as well as extensive erosion beneath and adjacent to the road." Id.; see also Compl., Exh. 4 (Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)) at 3.

In 2003, the District passed the Klingle Road Restoration Act, D.C. law 15-39, § 2402, D.C. Code § 9-115.11 (2003), mandating that the road be restored and reopened to public motor-vehicle traffic. Although the wheels were set in motion (so to speak) when the District published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register, the project was put on hold before reconstruction ever began. See FEA at S.3. Then in 2008, the D.C. Council changed gears. Id. It passed the Klingle Road Sustainable Development Amendment Act (codified as part of the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Support Act of 2008, D.C. Law 17-219, §§ 6016-19, D.C. Code § 9-115.11), requiring that the barricaded portion of Klingle Road "not be re-opened to the public for motor vehicle traffic" "[n]otwithstanding any other law." D.C. Code § 9-115.11 (emphasis added); see also Compl., ¶ 46. Instead, the Council mandated that a pedestrian and bicycle trail be constructed along Klingle Road, including the barricaded portion that runs from "Porter Street, N.W., on the east, to Cortland Place, N.W., on the west." D.C. Law 17-219, § 6018. The 2008 Act also provides for environmental remediation of the area, directing the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) to make necessary repairs to stormwater and sewage pipes so as to "reduce or eliminate the runoff or discharge of storm water or sewage water into Klingle Valley." D.C. Law 17-219, § 6018(2).

In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the FHWA and DDOT prepared an Environmental Assessment of the proposed "Klingle Valley Trail Project" (Project), which was released on June 4, 2010. See FONSI at 1, 10; see also 40 C.F.R. 1508.27(a). After a comment period and a public hearing, a Final Environmental Assessment (FEA) was issued for further public comment and ultimately signed on January 7, 2011. See Compl., ¶ 50.

In addition to the environmental assessment, the agencies performed an analysis of significant impact as required by NEPA. See 40 C.F.R. 1508.27(a). After evaluating both the "context" and "intensity" of the Project, they concluded that the proposed multi-use trail along Klingle Road would not have a "significant impact" as defined by NEPA. See id., FONSI at 11. On March 4, 2011, they issued a Finding of No Significant Impact explaining the basis for their conclusion. See Compl., ¶ 50. Among other things, the FONSI discusses alternatives the agencies considered and steps they would take to minimize any adverse effects of the chosen Project. See FONSI at 3-4, 7-8. On May 6, 2011, a notice was published in the Federal Register advising the public that FHWA's approval of the Project was final and that any challenge to the action must be filed on or before November 2, 2011. See 76 Fed. Reg. 26336.

B. The Current Action

Plaintiffs are D.C. residents who live near the area that will be affected by the Project. See Compl., ¶¶ 9-16. On November 1, 2011, they filed suit against the seven Defendants mentioned in the introduction -- all in their official capacities. Id., ¶¶ 17-24. Plaintiffs allege that in approving the Project, Defendants failed to adequately comply with NEPA, the Federal Aid Highway Act (FAHA), and President's Executive Order 12989. Compl., ¶¶ 1, 136. They seek a court order declaring the Project's approval unlawful as well as an injunction prohibiting "FHWA from providing financial assistance" for the Project and DDOT from "contracting for, commencing, or continuing construction" of the Project "unless and until such time as FHWA has complied with all requirements of NEPA and FAHA." Id., ¶ 5.

On February 13, 2012, the Federal Defendants and District Defendants filed separate Motions to Dismiss. See ECF Nos. 9, 10. Both Motions argue that Plaintiffs lack standing and that the Complaint should therefore be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. See Fed. Defs. Mot. at 3, District Defs. Mot. at 2. District Defendants contend, in addition, that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim against them because the APA "does not provide for a right of action against the government of the District of Columbia." District Defs. Mot. at 2. Similarly, Federal Defendants argue (in the alternative) that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim with respect to three Defendants -- Machen, Holder, and Fonseco-Martinez -- because the Complaint does not link those Defendants to any challenged decision. See Fed. Defs. Mot. at 12. On March 6, 2012, Friends of the Earth, Inc. and the Sierra Club filed a Motion to Intervene, which the Court granted, and the two intervenors simultaneously moved to dismiss, "incorporat[ing] by reference the arguments, points, and authority set forth by the federal and District Defendants in their respective motions to dismiss.." ECF No. 14 (Motion to Intervene), Exh. 2 (Motion to Dismiss) at 1. In addition to responding to these Motions, Plaintiffs have moved for judgment on the pleadings. See ECF No. 18.

As the Court agrees that Plaintiffs lack standing, it need not reach any of the issues presented by any party ...

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