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Friends of Capital Crescent Trail v. Federal Transit Administration

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 5, 2019


          MEMORANDUM OPINION [DKT. ## 49, 50]


         Plaintiffs Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail ("FCCT"), John MacKnight Fitzgerald, Christine Real De Azua, and Anna C. Haac (collectively, "plaintiffs") filed this suit against the Federal Transit Administration ("FTA"), the United States Department of Transportation, and the Maryland Department of Transportation (collectively, "defendants") to stop construction of a 16.2-mile light rail transit project in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, Maryland. The project, known as the Purple Line project, is being funded in part by a grant from the federal government, and plaintiffs allege that the grant was issued in violation of federal law.

         This, of course, is not plaintiffs' first foray in their fight against the Purple Line. In August 2014, FCCT and two of the three individual plaintiffs in this case brought a "challenge[] under the National Environmental Policy Act to Maryland's proposed 'Purple Line' light rail project." Friends of Capital Crescent Trail v. FT A, 877 F.3d 1051, 1054 (D.C. Cir. 2017) ("FCCT I”). Our Circuit Court ultimately rejected that challenge. See Id. at 1066. And shortly after the Court permitted FTA to proceed, the agency committed approximately $900 million to Maryland's project. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 46, 69 [Dkt. # 45]. Undaunted, plaintiffs filed this new suit upon learning that FTA had issued its grant, and defendants have now moved to dismiss all pending claims.

         Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, this second attempt to stop the Purple Line fares no better than their first. A suit like this one, which raises Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") challenges to determinations made by a federal agency, may proceed only if plaintiffs are timely seeking review of a final agency action and only if plaintiffs' standing to sue arises from an injury that falls arguably within the zone of interests protected by the statute the agency is alleged to have violated. The claims in plaintiffs' amended complaint each fail one of these requirements. Accordingly, defendants' motions to dismiss this suit must be GRANTED.


         In 2003, Maryland applied for federal funding to support its Purple Line project through FTA's "New Starts" program. See FCCT I, 877 F.3d at 1055. The "New Starts" program, governed by 49 U.S.C. § 5309, supports public transit systems, including rapid rail, light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and ferry systems, throughout the country.[1] See Major Capital Investment Projects, 78 Fed. Reg. 1992, 1993 (Jan. 9, 2013). State and local governmental authorities are permitted to submit "New Starts" applications, which undergo several phases of FTA review and are evaluated according to statutorily prescribed criteria before federal funds are committed to any project. See 49 U.S.C. § 5309. When an application for a "new fixed guideway capital project," like the Purple Line, passes the required evaluations, FTA awards a full funding grant agreement ("FFGA") to the applicant. Id. § 5309(k). The FFGA commits federal funds to support the applicant's project. See id.

         One prerequisite for an FFGA is the applicant's "completion of [the] activities required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969" ("NEPA"). 49 U.S.C. § 5309(d)(2)(A) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.). These activities must be completed during the initial "project development" phase of a "New Starts" application, and in the case of the Purple Line, FTA certified Maryland's completion of NEPA's requirements in a March 2014 record of decision ("ROD"). See FCCT I, 877 F.3d at 1056-57. The ROD touched off the first round of litigation about the Purple Line's environmental impact but did not ultimately derail Maryland's application. See Id. In late August 2017, after our Circuit "reinstated [the ROD] pending appeal," Order at 2, FCCT I, No. 17-5132 (D.C. Cir. July 19, 2017), FTA issued an FFGA committing about $900 million in grant money to Maryland's Purple Line project, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 46, 69. § 1.91(a) ("The Federal Transit Administrator is delegated authority to carry out. . . Chapter 53 of title 49, United States Code, and notes thereto."); see also 49 U.S.C. § 322; 49 C.F.R. § 1.90(a).

         Within days, plaintiffs filed this lawsuit and moved for a temporary restraining order, seeking to prevent Maryland from starting construction of the Purple Line. See Compl. at 36 [Dkt. # 1]; Mot. for Temp. Restraining Order [Dkt. #2]. Maryland's Department of Transportation agreed not to begin the challenged construction work until a motion for a preliminary injunction could be briefed and heard. See Order at 2-3 (Sept. 8, 2017) [Dkt. #14]. On September 22, 2017, having held hearings on both the temporary restraining order and the preliminary injunction, I denied plaintiffs' requests for interim relief and allowed construction to begin. See Mem. Order at 5 (Sept. 22, 2017) [Dkt. # 28]. In my Order denying plaintiffs' motions, I expressed doubt that plaintiffs could prove the two violations of 49 U.S.C. § 5309 they were asserting at the time, and I noted the substantial "jurisdictional 'impediments to even reaching the merits' of [either] claim." Id. at 3-4 (quoting Munaf v. Geren, 553 U.S. 674, 690 (2008)).

         Defendants then moved to dismiss the complaint. Plaintiffs amended their pleading in response and now raise six claims, each brought pursuant to Section 706 of the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 706. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 106, 111, 127, 134, 139, 151. Plaintiffs allege that, by funding and beginning construction of the Purple Line, defendants have violated "49 U.S.C. § 5309, 49 U.S.C. § 303; ... 54 U.S.C. §§ 306108, 306113; [and] Sections 101 and 102 of NEPA." Id. at 48; see also Id. ¶¶ 96-151. Defendants filed new motions[2] to dismiss, arguing that the amended complaint still does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted that falls within this Court's jurisdiction, and their motions are ripe.


         Defendants' motions to dismiss raise arguments under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).

         "Under Rule 12(b)(1), 'the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the factual predicates of jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.'" Hunter v. FERC, 569 F.Supp.2d 12, 15 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting Lindsey v. United States, 448 F.Supp.2d 37, 42 (D.D.C.2OO6)). "[T]he Court 'must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs, '" but because "the inquiry focuses on the Court's power to hear the claim, the Court may give the plaintiffs factual allegations closer scrutiny and may consider materials outside the pleadings." Logan v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 357 F.Supp.2d 149, 153 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting Fitts v. Federal Nat'l Mortgage Ass 'n, 44 F.Supp.2d 317, 321 (D.D.C. 1999)).

         "The court will only dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim if 'it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Logan, 357 F.Supp.2d at 153 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). Plaintiffs must be "grant[ed] ... the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged," but "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). "[L]egal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations" likewise need not be accepted by a court deciding whether a claim satisfies Rule 12(b)(6). Id.


         In this second attempt to stop the Purple Line project, plaintiffs' have reframed their claims, added new factual allegations, and alleged additional errors by the agencies overseeing the project. Unsurprisingly, however, they brought their strongest case the first time around. All of plaintiffs' refashioned claims must be dismissed.

         I. Plaintiffs' Alleged Injuries Do Not Fall Within the Zone of Interests Protected or Regulated by the Asserted ...

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