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LLC v. Lew

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 11, 2016

DESERT SUNLIGHT 250, LLC, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JACOB J. LEW, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Treasury, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER United States District Judge

Plaintiffs have sued to compel the Secretary of the Treasury to reimburse them, under a federal grant program, for a portion of the costs they incurred in developing a series of renewable energy projects. Finding that the United States Court of Federal Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit, the Court will deny Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and grant the Treasury Department’s motion to dismiss the case.

I. Background

Congress enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA”), Pub. L. No. 111-5, 123 Stat. 115 (2009), in an effort to jumpstart the American economy out of the deepest recession the nation had experienced since the Great Depression. One of the Act’s many aims was to encourage investment in renewable energy projects by awarding federal grants to offset project costs. To that end, Section 1603 of the Act specifies that, “[u]pon application, the Secretary of the Treasury shall, subject to the requirements of this section, provide a grant to each person who places in service a specified energy property to reimburse such person for a portion of the expense of such property as provided in subsection (b).” Id. 1603(a). And to expedite the funding, Congress imposed a deadline on the Secretary to award grants to qualified applicants: “The Secretary of the Treasury shall make payment of any grant under subsection (a) during the 60-day period beginning on the later of (1) the date of the application for such grant, or (2) the date the specified energy property for which the grant is being made is placed into service.” Id. 1603(c).

Plaintiffs Desert Sunlight 250, LLC, Desert Sunlight 300, LLC (collectively, “Desert Sunlight”), and NextEra Energy Resources, LLC (“NEER”), seek a writ of mandamus and declaratory and injunctive relief under the Mandamus Act, the Declaratory Judgment Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) to enforce Section 1603’s 60-day payment deadline with respect to multiple grant applications that they have filed (or intend to file) with the Treasury Department. Desert Sunlight owns and operates 250- and 300-MW solar-energy-generating facilities near Desert Center, California. It has invested in twenty projects covered by Section 1603 and filed applications seeking reimbursement grants for fifteen of those projects, each of which has been placed into service. See Pls.’ Mot. Summ. J. 9. In April 2015, Desert Sunlight received notification that the Department was making partial payments on the pending applications, but would reserve further payments until the company provided additional information the agency had requested in order to verify the company’s claimed cost-basis in the projects, which is used to calculate the amount of the reimbursements. See id. at 10. Desert Sunlight’s applications sought a total of $614, 825, 749 in reimbursement grants under ARRA. See Compl. ¶¶ 37-39; Pls.’ Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 2 (“Pls.’ Statement Material Facts”) ¶ 18. Treasury claims to have paid Plaintiffs $358, 981, 363 to date. See Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss 6-7. Plaintiffs claim to have received slightly more-$360, 468, 007. Pls.’ Statement Material Facts ¶ 18. These figures leave roughly $255, 000, 000 in dispute.[1]

NEER is in the business of developing and acquiring wind- and solar-energy-generating facilities through subsidiaries and partnerships. Compl. ¶ 53. It is in the process of completing and placing into service solar-energy projects for which it plans to submit applications for reimbursement grants under Section 1603. Plaintiffs claim that as a would-be applicant, NEER is harmed by Defendants’ “continuing failure to make 1603 Grants and payments in the statutory period, ” and that “NEER will incur charges for interest related to the delayed grants and payments and will be hindered in its ability” to secure investors for its projects. Compl. ¶ 54.

Plaintiffs filed suit in July 2015 against the Treasury Department, as well as Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew and Fiscal Assistant Secretary of the Treasury David Lebryk in their official capacities, and moved for summary judgment on August 24, 2015. Plaintiffs contend that Treasury has unlawfully refused to reimburse the full amounts claimed in their Section 1603 applications within the 60-day period prescribed by that section. Plaintiffs specifically seek injunctive and mandamus relief to compel Defendants to comply with the requirements of Section 1603-that is, to remedy “agency action unlawfully withheld and unreasonably delayed.” Pls. Mot. Summ. J. 12 (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 706(1)). Plaintiffs also seek declaratory relief because, they contend, “it is likely that Defendants will continue to breach those duties in connection with future Grant applications.” Id. 3.

Treasury moved to dismiss the Complaint with prejudice for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), contending that the Tucker Act gives the Court of Federal Claims exclusive jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims because they are, at bottom, claims for money damages. See Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss 10. Alternatively, the Department insists that it has complied with the statutory deadlines by making partial payments pending receipt of additional financial information to support Plaintiffs’ cost-basis calculations. Making full payment in the absence of this information, in Treasury’s view, would violate its obligation under Section 1603 to verify reimbursement claims before paying out what can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in government grants. See id. at 24.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A dispute is genuine only if a reasonable fact-finder could find for the nonmoving party; a fact is material only if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Laningham v. U.S. Dep’t of Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987). In assessing a party’s motion for summary judgment, the court must “view the facts and draw reasonable inferences ‘in the light most favorable to the party opposing the . . . motion.’” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam)).

Because “[f]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, ” it is “presumed that a cause lies outside of this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Gammill v. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., 989 F.Supp.2d 118, 120 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), “the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction.” Id. (quoting Adams v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd., 564 F.Supp.2d 37, 39-40 (D.D.C. 2008)) (internal quotation mark omitted). Although the court must “accept all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, ” id. at 120-21 (quoting Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005)) (internal quotation marks omitted), it “must give the plaintiff’s factual allegations closer scrutiny when resolving a Rule 12(b)(1) motion than would be required for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim” because “subject matter jurisdiction focuses on the court’s power to hear the claim, ” id. at 121 (quoting Bailey v. WMATA, 696 F.Supp.2d 68, 71 (D.D.C. 2010)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Finally, if “a federal court concludes that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the complaint in its entirety.” Id. (quoting Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006)).

III. Analysis

The government contends that only the Court of Federal Claims may exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims. The Court will first address whether the Court of Federal Claims is statutorily empowered to hear this case, and if so, whether its jurisdiction is exclusive under these circumstances. Because the Court concludes that the Court of Federal Claims does in fact have exclusive jurisdiction, it need not address ...


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