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Baltimore v. Pruitt

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 9, 2017

BLUE WATER BALTIMORE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SCOTT PRUITT, Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE WALTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiffs, Blue Water Baltimore, Chester River Association, Gunpowder Riverkeeper, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Potomac Riverkeeper Network, and Waterkeepers Chesapeake, all non-profit environmental organizations dedicated to protecting local watersheds in Maryland, initiated this action against Scott Pruitt, in his official capacity as the Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (the “EPA”), challenging the EPA's approval of Maryland's 2012 Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality (the “2012 Integrated Report”) under the Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-06 (2012). See Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 1, 4-11, 16. On July 18, 2017, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion dismissing the plaintiffs' Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because their challenges were found to be moot. See Blue Water Balt. v. Pruitt, ___ F.Supp.3d ___, ___, 2017 WL 3049405, at *7 (D.D.C. July 18, 2017) (Walton, J.). Currently before the Court are the Plaintiffs' Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment (“Pls.' Rule 59 Mot.”) and the Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (“Pls.' Rule 15 Mot.”).

         Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [1] the Court concludes that it must grant both of the plaintiffs' motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court discussed the factual and statutory background of this case in its Memorandum Opinion issued on July 18, 2017, see Blue Water Balt., ___ F.Supp.3d at ___, 2017 WL 3049405, at *1-3, and will not reiterate those facts again here. In that opinion, the Court granted the EPA's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) because the EPA's approval of Maryland's “2014 Integrated Report superseded the 2012 Integrated Report, thus mooting the plaintiffs' challenge to the reclassifications [of fifty-three water bodies] in the 2012 Integrated Report, ” id. at *5, and the plaintiffs' challenge did not meet the capable of repetition, yet evading review exception to the mootness doctrine, see id. at *7. In the accompanying Order, the Court dismissed the plaintiffs' Complaint “with prejudice.” Order at 1 (July 18, 2017), ECF No. 24. On August 14, 2017, the plaintiffs simultaneously filed their motions, [2] requesting that the Court modify its July 18, 2017 Order to redesignate that the dismissal of their Complaint is without prejudice and grant them leave to file an amended complaint to challenge the EPA's approval of Maryland's 2014 Integrated Report. See Pls.' Rule 59 Mot. at 1.[3]

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Motion to Alter or Amend a Judgment

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) permits a party to file “[a] motion to alter or amend a judgment” within “[twenty-eight] days after the entry of the judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). However, motions under Rule 59(e) are “disfavored, ” and the moving party bears the burden of establishing “extraordinary circumstances” warranting relief from a final judgment. E.g., Niedermeier v. Office of Baucus, 153 F.Supp.2d 23, 28 (D.D.C. 2001) (citing Anyanwutaku v. Moore, 151 F.3d 1053, 1057 (D.C. Cir. 1998)). “Rule 59(e) motions need not be granted unless the district court finds that there is an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Anyanwutaku, 151 F.3d at 1057-58 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A court must grant a Rule 59(e) motion “if [its] dismissal of the complaint with prejudice was erroneous; that is, the Rule 59(e) motion should be granted unless ‘the allegation of other facts consistent with the challenged pleading could not possibly cure the deficiency.'” Brink v. Cont'l Ins. Co., 787 F.3d 1120, 1128 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1209 (D.C. Cir. 1996)).

         B. Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), the court should “freely give leave” to a party to amend its pleading “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Leave to amend should be granted “[i]n the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of [the] amendment.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Order Dismissing the Complaint with Prejudice

         The plaintiffs argue that the Court erred in dismissing their Complaint with prejudice because “[d]ismissal of a complaint for jurisdictional reasons such as mootness should be without prejudice.” Pls.' Rule 59 Mem. at 3. As support for this position, they cite Rule 41(b), see id., which provides that “[u]nless the dismissal order states otherwise, [an involuntary dismissal]-except one for lack of jurisdiction, improper venue, or failure to join a party under Rule 19-operates as an adjudication on the merits, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b), and note that “‘adjudication on the merits' in this context means dismissal with prejudice, ” Pls.' Rule 59 Mem. at 3. Therefore, according to the plaintiffs, the Court's conclusion that the plaintiffs' claims were moot does not constitute an adjudication on the merits. See id. at 3-4.

         The Court agrees with the plaintiffs that their Complaint should have been dismissed without prejudice under Rule 41(b). “[T]he Supreme Court [has] concluded that an ‘adjudication upon the merits' under Rule 41(b) is synonymous with a dismissal with prejudice and ‘the opposite of a dismissal without prejudice.'” Havens v. Mabus, 759 F.3d 91, 98 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting Semtek Int'l Inc. v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 531 U.S. 497, 505 (2001)). Therefore, “[a] jurisdictional dismissal-which is not an adjudication on the merits under Rule 41(b)-is, then, a dismissal without prejudice.” Id.; see also Kasap v. Folger Nolan Fleming & Douglas, Inc., 166 F.3d 1243, 1248 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (“We conclude by noting that the district court improperly dismissed appellant's suit with prejudice. As appellees concede, dismissals for lack of jurisdiction are not decisions on the merits . . . .”). Dismissals on the grounds of mootness and other justiciability doctrines are treated as jurisdictional dismissals, see Conservation Force, Inc. v. Jewell, 733 F.3d 1200, 1204 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (“Federal courts lack jurisdiction to decide moot cases because their constitutional authority extends only to actual cases or controversies.” (quoting Iron Arrow Honor Soc'y v. Heckler, 464 U.S. 67, 70 (1983))); Attias v. Carefirst, Inc., 865 F.3d 620, 624-25 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (affirming the district court's grant of dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) because the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing); see also 18A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure ยง 4436 (2d ed. 2002) ...


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