444 U.S. 223 (1980), 79-168, Strycker's Bay Neighborhood Council, Inc. v. Karlen

Docket Nº:No. 79-168
Citation:444 U.S. 223, 100 S.Ct. 497, 62 L.Ed.2d 433
Party Name:Strycker's Bay Neighborhood Council, Inc. v. Karlen
Case Date:January 07, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court

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444 U.S. 223 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 497, 62 L.Ed.2d 433

Strycker's Bay Neighborhood Council, Inc.



No. 79-168

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 7, 1980




Held: The Court of Appeals erred in concluding that, when the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considered alternative sites before redesignating a proposed site for middle-income housing as one for low-income housing it should have given determinative weight to environmental factors such as crowding low-income housing into a concentrated area and should not have considered the delay that would occur in developing an alternative site as an overriding factor. Once an agency has made a decision subject to the procedural requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the only role for a court is to insure that the agency has considered the environmental consequences; it cannot interject itself within the area of discretion of the executive as to the choice of the action to be taken. Here, there is no doubt that HUD considered the environmental consequences of its decision to redesignate the proposed site for low-income housing, and the Act requires no more.

Certiorari granted; 590 F.2d 39, reversed.

Per curiam opinion.


The protracted nature of this litigation is perhaps best illustrated by the identity of the original federal defendant, "George Romney, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development." At the center of this dispute is the site of a proposed low-income housing project to be constructed on Manhattan's Upper West Side. In 1962, the New York City Planning Commission (Commission), acting in conjunction with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), began formulating a

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plan for the renewal of 20 square blocks known as the "West Side Urban Renewal Area" (WSURA) through a joint effort on the part of private parties and various government agencies. As originally written, the plan called for a mix of 70% middle-income housing and 30% low-income housing and designated the site at issue here as the location of one of the middle-income projects. In 1969, after substantial progress toward completion of the plan, local agencies in New York determined that the number of low-income units proposed for WSURA would be insufficient to satisfy an increased need for such units. In response to this shortage, the Commission amended the plan to designate the site as the future location of a high-rise building containing 160 units of low-income housing. HUD approved this amendment in December, 1972.

Meanwhile, in October, 1971, the Trinity Episcopal School Corp. (Trinity), which had participated in the plan by building a combination school and middle-income housing development at a nearby location, sued in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to enjoin the Commission and HUD from constructing low-income housing on the site. The present respondents, Roland N. Karlen, Alvin C. Hudgins, and the Committee of Neighbors To Insure a Normal Urban Environment (CONTINUE), intervened as plaintiffs, while petitioner Strycker's Bay Neighborhood Council, Inc., intervened as a defendant.

The District Court entered judgment in favor of petitioners. See Trinity Episcopal School Corp. v. Romney, 387 F.Supp. 1044 (1974). It concluded, inter alia, that petitioners had not violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 83 Stat. 852, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.

On respondents' appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed all but the District Court's treatment of the NEPA claim. See Trinity Episcopal School Corp. v. Romney, 523 F.2d 88

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(1975). While the Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court that HUD was not required to prepare a full-scale environmental impact statement under § 102(2)(C) of NEPA, 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C), it held hat HUD had not complied with § 102(2)(E),1 which requires an agency to

study, develop, and describe appropriate alternatives to recommended courses of action in any proposal which involves unresolved conflicts concerning alternative uses of available resources.

42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(E). See 523 F.2d at 995. According to the Court of Appeals, any consideration by HUD of alternatives to placing low-income housing on the site "was either highly limited or nonexistent." Id. at 94. Citing the "background of urban environmental factors" behind HUD's decision, the Court of Appeals remanded the case, requiring HUD to prepare a "statement of possible alternatives, the consequences thereof and the facts and reasons [100 S.Ct. 499] for and against. . . ." Ibid. The statement was not to reflect "HUD's concept or the Housing Authority's views as to how these agencies would choose to resolve the city's low income group housing situation," but rather was to explain

how, within the framework of the Plan, its objective of economic integration can best be achieved with a minimum of adverse environmental impact.

Ibid. The Court of Appeals believed that, given such an assessment of alternatives, "the agencies with the cooperation of the interested parties should be able to arrive at an equitable solution." Id. at 95.

On remand, HUD prepared a lengthy report entitled Special Environmental Clearance (1977). After marshaling the data, the report asserted that,

while the choice of Site 30 for development as a 100 percent low-income project has raised

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valid questions about the potential social environmental impacts involved, the problems associated with the impact on social fabric and community structures are not considered so serious as to require that this component be rated as unacceptable.

Special Environmental Clearance Report 42. The last portion of the report incorporated a study wherein the Commission evaluated nine alternative locations for the project, and found none of them acceptable. While HUD's report conceded that this study may not have considered all possible alternatives, it credited the Commission's conclusion that any relocation of the units would entail an unacceptable delay of two years or more. According to HUD,

[m]easured against the environmental costs associated with the minimum two-year delay, the benefits seem insufficient to justify a mandated substitution of sites.

Id. at 54.

After soliciting the parties' comments on HUD's report, the District Court again entered judgment in favor of petitioners. See Trinity Episcopal School Corp. v. Harris, 445 F.Supp. 204 (1978). The court was "impressed with HUD's analysis as being thorough and exhaustive," id. at 209-210, and found that "HUD's consideration of the alternatives was neither arbitrary nor capricious"; on the contrary, "[i]t was done in good faith and in full accordance with the law." Id. at 220.

On appal, the Second Circuit vacated and remanded again. Karlen v. Harris, 590 F.2d 39 (1978). The appellate court focused upon that part of HUD's report where the agency considered and rejected alternative sites, and in particular upon HUD's reliance on the delay such a relocation would entail. The Court of Appeals purported to recognize that its role in reviewing HUD's decision was defined by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A),...

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