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Friends of Capital Crescent Trail v. Federal Transit Administration

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 3, 2016

FRIENDS OF THE CAPITAL CRESCENT TRAIL, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION, Federal Defendants.
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND, Defendant-Intervenor.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [DKTS. ##47, 54, 56]

          RICHARD J. LEON United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail ("FCCT"), John MacKnight Fitzgerald, and Christine Real de Azua ("plaintiffs") challenge the March 19, 2014 Record of Decision ("ROD") by the Federal Transit Administration ("FTA") and related approvals by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("FWS, " and together with FTA and the Department of Transportation and the Department of Interior, "federal defendants") for the Purple Line Project, a 16.2-mile light rail transit project in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, Maryland. Plaintiffs raise multiple claims under the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., the Federal Transit Act, 49 U.S.C. § 5309, Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, 23 U.S.C. § 138, the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531 et seq., and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 16 U.S.C. § 703. See generally Am. Compl. [Dkt. #20]; First Supp. Compl. [Dkt # 33]; Second Supp. Compl. [Dkt #42]. Following the filing of the complaint, the State of Maryland joined the federal defendants as an intervenor-defendant. See Minute Order, July 15, 2015. Currently before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by plaintiffs, federal defendants, and defendant-intervenor. See Pis.' Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. #47]; Federal Defs.' Cross-Mot, for Summ. J. [Dkt. #54]; Def.-Intervenor's Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. #56]. Upon consideration of the pleadings, record, and relevant law, I find that the recent revelations regarding Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's ("WMATA") ridership and safety concerns merit a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement under NEPA and reserve judgment as to the remaining issues. Accordingly, plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part, and federal defendants' and defendant-intervenors' cross-motions for summary judgment are DENIED in part.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court's review "is based on the agency record and limited to determining whether the agency acted arbitrarily or capriciously." Rempfer v. Sharfstein, 583 F.3d 860, 865 (D.C. Cir. 2009). Whereas "the role of the agency [is] to resolve factual issues, " the sole "function of the district court is to determine whether or not as a matter of law the evidence in the administrative record permitted the agency to make the decision it did." Sierra Club v. Mainella, 459 F.Supp.2d 76, 90 (D.D.C. 2006) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). The Court must determine "whether the agency acted within the scope of its legal authority, . . . explained its decision, . . . relied [on facts that] have some basis in the record, and . . . considered the relevant factors." Fund for Animals v. Babbitt, 903 F.Supp. 96, 105 (D.D.C. 1995).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Statutory Background

         NEPA requires that federal agencies consider the environmental effects of proposed actions by requiring them to "carefully consider[] detailed information concerning significant environmental impacts." Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council, 490 U.S. 332, 349 (1989). Under NEPA, a federal agency must prepare an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") whenever a proposed government action qualifies as a "major Federal action[] significantly affecting the quality of the human environment." 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C). The EIS "shall state how alternatives considered in it and decisions based on it will or will not achieve the requirements of [NEPA] and other environmental laws and policies, " 40 C.F.R. § 1502.2(d), discuss "[p]ossible conflicts between the proposed action and the objectives of Federal . . . land use plans, policies and controls for the area concerned, " id. § 1502.16(c), and "present the environmental impacts of the proposal and the alternatives in comparative form, thus sharply defining the issues and providing a clear basis for choice among options by the decisionmaker and the public, " id. § 1502.14. The idea is that "[s]uch information may cause the agency to modify its proposed action." Citizens Against Rails-to-Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd, 267 F.3d 1144, 1151 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

         Even after preparation of an EIS, an agency is obligated to undertake a supplemental EIS ("SEIS") when presented with "substantial changes in the proposed action that are relevant to environmental concerns" or "new and significant circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts." 10 C.F.R. § 51.92(a)(1)-(2). "[A]n agency need not supplement an EIS every time new information comes to light, " Marsh v. Oregon Nat. Res. Council, 490 U.S. 360, 373 (1989), but rather only when "new information provides a seriously different picture of the environmental landscape, '" Nat'l Comm. for the New River v. FERC, 373 F.3d 1323, 1330 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Courts review an agency's decision whether to undertake an SEIS under the arbitrary and capricious standard. City of Olmsted Falls v. FA A, 292 F.3d 261, 274 (D.C. Cir. 2002).

         The scope of review under the "arbitrary and capricious" standard "is narrow, " and "a court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the agency." Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983). Nevertheless, the agency must examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action including a "rational connection between the facts found and the choice made." Burlington Truck Lines v. United States, 371 U.S. 156, 168 (1962). An agency's action is arbitrary and capricious if it "has relied on factors which Congress has not intended it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise." Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass 463 U.S. at 43.

         II. WMATA's Ridership and Safety Concerns Merits an SEIS

         Plaintiffs bring various claims against defendants challenging agency actions involving the Purple Line, but today I will only address plaintiffs' NEPA claim challenging defendants' failure to prepare an SEIS based on recent events that raise substantial concerns about WMATA's safety and in turn its possible decline in future ridership. I find that defendants' failure to adequately consider WMATA's ridership and safety issues was arbitrary and capricious, and that these conditions create the "seriously different picture" that warrant an SEIS.

         Plaintiffs submitted a letter on October 9, 2015, requesting that the agencies prepare an SEIS based on WMATA's recent safety concerns and declines in ridership in the Metrorail system, which, as a consequence, called the ridership forecasts for the Purple Line into question. AR5006470-71. Plaintiffs pointed to a "series of incidents that have raised questions about passenger safety, " explained that the National Transportation Safety Board had found that the "FTA and WMATA's Tri-State Oversight Commission are incapable of restoring and ensuring the safety of WMATA's subway system, " and emphasized how these developments directly undermined the rationale for the Purple Line, providing that:

[R]idership on the WMATA subway has declined every year since 2009. That is the year after the [draft Environmental Impact Statement] last reviewed ridership projections for the Purple Line and alternatives to it. . . . The news of [declining Metrorail ridership] . . . casts a[n] additional shadow over the rosy projections of ever-increasing ridership for the Purple Line, which is inextricably linked to and dependent upon the use of several subway stops from beginning to end.

Id. (footnotes omitted). Amazingly, the response from the Maryland Transit Authority("MTA") consisted solely of the ...


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