324 F.3d 1229 (11th Cir. 2003), 02-10555, National Parks Conservation Ass'n v. Norton

Docket Nº:02-10555
Citation:324 F.3d 1229
Party Name:NATIONAL PARKS CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION, TROPICAL AUDUBON SOCIETY, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. GAIL NORTON, as Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, and FRAN P. MAINELLA, as Director of the National Park Service, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 18, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1229

324 F.3d 1229 (11th Cir. 2003)

NATIONAL PARKS CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION, TROPICAL AUDUBON SOCIETY, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

GAIL NORTON, as Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, and FRAN P. MAINELLA, as Director of the National Park Service, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 02-10555

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

March 18, 2003

Page 1230

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1231

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. D. C. Docket No. 01-01953-CV-UUB

Paul J. Schwiep, Aragon, Burlington, Weil & Crockett, P.A., Miami, FL, Richard A. Duncan, Karleen M. O'Connor, Faegre & Benson, LLP, Minneapolis, MN, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Sandra S. Glover, David C. Shilton, U.S. Dept. of Justice, App. Section, Environment & Natural Resources Div., Washington, DC, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before CARNES, MARCUS and SUHRHEINRICH[*], Circuit Judges.

MARCUS, Circuit Judge:

This case centers around the fate of “Stiltsville,” a collection of stilted buildings located in Biscayne Bay, off the southern coast of Key Biscayne, Florida. These buildings presently rest within the boundaries of Biscayne National Park, and accordingly the National Park Service (“NPS”) is charged with their administration. However, in 1976, prior to the assumption by the NPS of responsibility for their management,1 the structures were leased by the State of Florida to individual occupants for 23 year terms. These leases expressly provided that upon their expiration on July 1, 1999 the Stiltsville structures would be removed. As this deadline approached, however, the lessees of these buildings successfully undertook to extend their exclusive occupancy.

On May 14, 2001, appellants the National Parks Conservation Association (“NPCA”) and Tropical Audubon Society (“TAS”) responded to the lessees’ efforts by filing this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. They alleged that the NPS’s failure to discontinue the exclusive private use of the Stiltsville structures violated the National Park Service Organic Act (“Organic Act”), 16 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., the Biscayne National Park General Management Plan (“General Management Plan”), the National Environmental Protection Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., several of the administrative regulations that attend the Organic Act and the NEPA and the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. With the exception of the equal protection claim, which they brought under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, NPCA and TAS advanced each of their claims under the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 706(1) & 2(A). Appellants sought to compel the NPS 2 to either remove the structures or make them accessible to the public.

The district court granted summary judgment to the NPS on all of appellants’ claims. It reasoned that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the APA because decisions whether and how to comply with Page 1232

the Organic Act, General Management Plan, NEPA and their implementing regulations are vested entirely within the NPS’s discretion. Accordingly, the court applied the APA’s “committed to agency discretion” exception to the rule providing for judicial review of administrative action. See 5 U.S.C. § 701(a)(2); Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821, 828-35, 105 S.Ct. 1649, 1654-58, 84 L.Ed. 2d 714 (1985). The district court also held that appellants lacked standing to advance their Fifth Amendment equal protection claim. NPCA and TAS appeal both of these holdings. After thorough review, we find that the district court’s conclusion that appellants’ APA claims were non-justiciable was correct, as was the entry of final summary judgment for appellee on appellants’ equal protection claim. However, we base both of these results on different grounds than were relied on by the district court. See Lucas v. W.W. Grainger, Inc., 257 F.3d 1249, 1256 (11th Cir. 2001) (noting that “we may affirm [the district court’s] judgment ‘on any ground that finds support in the record’” (quoting Jaffke v. Dunham, 352 U.S. 280, 281, 77 S.Ct. 307, 308, 1 L.Ed. 2d 314 (1957))). In particular, we conclude that we lack subject matter jurisdiction over appellants’ APA claims because the NPS has not taken any action vis-a-vis the future management of Stiltsville that can be considered “final” within the meaning of 5 U.S.C. § 704. Furthermore, although NPCA and TAS enjoy standing to pursue their equal protection claim, that claim is unavailing on its merits.

I.

“Stiltsville” is a collection of structures constructed on stilts in the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay south of Key Biscayne, Florida. The buildings are largely weekend homes, restaurants and nightclubs that were built by wealthy individuals beginning in the 1930s. By 1945 there were 14 stilted structures in the bay, and by the 1960s there were 27 such structures in relatively close proximity to each other, and this collection of buildings became known as “Stiltsville.” Over the years, the majority of these structures have been destroyed by hurricanes, and today only 7 remain in existence.

During the mid-1960s, the Florida Department of Natural Resources asserted its jurisdiction over the state-owned submerged lands on which Stiltsville rests, and issued to private individuals renewable year-to-year leases for the structures at nominal rent. Subsequently, in 1968 Congress established Biscayne National Monument, the northern boundary of which was approximately five miles south of the Stiltsville structures. Congress created the Monument “to preserve and protect for the education, inspiration, recreation, and enjoyment of present and future generations a rare combination of terrestrial, marine, and amphibious life in a tropical setting of great natural beauty.” Pub. L. No. 90-606, § 1, 82 Stat. 1188 (1968). In 1976, the State of Florida replaced the year-to-year leases with exclusive “Campsite leases” that expired on July 1, 1999 and set the rent at $700 per year. These agreements expressly provided that the lessees forfeited all rights to the buildings other than those provided for in the leases, and that the structures were to be removed by the lessor upon the leases’ expiration.

In 1980, Congress passed the Biscayne National Park Enabling Act (“Enabling Act”), 16 U.S.C. §§ 410gg et seq., which converted Biscayne National Monument into Biscayne National Park. The Park encompasses 71,000 acres that the Monument did not, including the area in which Stiltsville is located. The Enabling Act directed the Park Service to “preserve and administer the park in accordance with the provisions” of the National Park Service Organic Act (“Organic Act”), 16 U.S.C. § 1, Page 1233

and to develop a revised management plan for the new park. Accordingly, in 1983 the NPS issued “[t]he General Management Plan, Development Concept Plan, Wilderness Study and Environmental Assessment” for Biscayne National Park. This Plan was prepared with public notice and comment after the completion of environmental review as required by the NEPA, and it remains in effect. The Plan states that the Stiltsville buildings and surrounding area will be managed as a natural area for the protection of the natural resources within the Park, that the leases pertaining to the structures will expire on July 1, 1999 and cannot be renewed, and that the buildings are to be removed upon the expiration of the leases. However, the Plan does not specify the method or exact timing of the removal. In 1985, Florida deeded to the federal government the submerged lands on which Stiltsville sits, an action that resulted in the NPS becoming landlord for the leaseholders.3

From the execution of the “campsite leases” in 1976 until near the end of the 23 year lease term, the structures were occupied without incident. However, as the July 1, 1999 expiration date approached, the leaseholders undertook a series of actions aimed at preserving their exclusive use of the buildings. They twice filed with the Keeper of the National Register applications to have the buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. These applications were opposed by the NPS and both ultimately were denied. Then, on June 29, 1999, with the threat of a lawsuit looming, appellee and the leaseholders entered into a “Standstill Agreement” which provided for the continued private occupancy of the buildings until December 1, 1999. On November 22, 1999, this agreement was extended through November 29, 2000. Subsequently, bills were introduced in both the 106th and 107th Congresses to modify the borders of Biscayne National Park to exclude Stiltsville, see H.R. 1002, 107th Cong. (1st Sess. 2001); H.R. 3033, 106th Cong. (2d Sess. 2000), but neither of these measures passed.

As the November 29, 2000 extended deadline neared, the Stiltsville occupants filed two separate actions in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in an effort to forestall the termination of their leases. These were captioned Bay Chateau, Inc. v. United States, No. 00-4529 (S.D. Fla.2000) and Miami Springs Power Boat Club v. United States, No. 00-4518 (S.D. Fla. 2000), and in each the plaintiff leaseholders claimed that the NPS lacked authority under the 1976 leases to evict them. On November 29, 2000 the district court entered a temporary restraining order preventing the NPS from moving to evict the Stiltsville residents, and then on December 18, 2000 the court converted the TRO into a preliminary injunction that remained in place until April 1, 2001. That same month, while these suits were pending, Congress passed an appropriations rider extending the second Standstill Agreement until March 31,2001. See Pub. L. No. 106-554, § 129, 114...

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