Belle Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, No. 13–30262.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtHIGGINSON
Citation761 F.3d 383
PartiesBELLE COMPANY, L.L.C.; Kent Recycling Services, L.L.C., Plaintiffs–Appellants v. UNITED STATES ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, Defendant–Appellee.
Decision Date30 July 2014
Docket NumberNo. 13–30262.

761 F.3d 383

BELLE COMPANY, L.L.C.; Kent Recycling Services, L.L.C., Plaintiffs–Appellants
v.
UNITED STATES ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, Defendant–Appellee.

No. 13–30262.

United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.

July 30, 2014.


[761 F.3d 385]


Murphy J. Foster, III, Esq. (argued), John Baird King, Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P., Jeremy S. LaCombe, Esq., LaCombe Law Firm, L.L.C., John Dale Powers, Powers, Sellers, Mixon & Chapoton, L.L.P., Baton Rouge, LA, for Plaintiffs–Appellants.

Robert Joel Lundman (argued), Aaron Peter Avila, Esq., Christina L. Richmond, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, John Joseph Gaupp, Esq., Assistant

[761 F.3d 386]

U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, Baton Rouge, LA, for Defendant–Appellee.


Malcolm Reed Hopper, Esq., Pacific Legal Foundation, Sacramento, CA, for Amicus Curiae.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
Before REAVLEY, DAVIS, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.

HIGGINSON, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff–Appellant Belle Company, L.L.C. owns property in the Parish of Assumption. Plaintiff–Appellant Kent Recycling, L.L.C. has an option to purchase the property in the event that it can be used as a solid-waste landfill. In February 2012, Defendant–Appellee United States Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) issued a jurisdictional determination (“JD”) stating that the property contains wetlands that are subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. Belle and Kent (collectively, “Belle”) sued, alleging that the JD is unlawful and should be set aside. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, concluding that the JD is not “final agency action” and therefore is not reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act. For the reasons that follow, we AFFIRM.

I.

The Clean Water Act (“CWA”) prohibits, among other things, the “discharge of any pollutant” into “navigable waters” unless authorized by a permit. 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1344. The CWA defines navigable waters as “the waters of the United States.” 33 U.S.C. § 1362(7). Under Section 404 of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1344, the Corps has authority to issue permits, termed 404 permits, for the discharge of dredged or fill materials into navigable waters. The regulations that govern the permitting process authorize the Corps to consult with potential permit applicants prior to receiving, processing, and issuing or denying individual permits. 33 C.F.R. § 325.1(b). The regulations also authorize the Corps “to issue formal determinations concerning the applicability of the Clean Water Act ... to activities or tracts of land and the applicability of general permits or statutory exemptions to proposed activities.” 33 C.F.R. §§ 320.1(a)(6); 325.9. The Corps has an administrative appeal process through which it reviews an initial JD. 33 C.F.R. § 331.

Belle's property has a long history. In 1991, the Corps informed Belle that the property correctly was designated as prior-converted cropland by the United States Department of Agriculture (“DOA”) and thus did not constitute wetlands under the CWA. In 1993, the Corps and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) promulgated a final rule that excluded property designated as prior-converted cropland from the definition of waters of the United States. 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(a)(8). In 1995, the DOA informed Belle that the property was prior-converted cropland and not a wetland under the 1990 Food and Security Act. In 2003, however, the Corps informed Belle that any prior correspondence as to the property's wetland status was not valid and that the property did constitute wetlands subject to Corps regulation. Subsequently, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (“NRCS”) issued a technical determination, based on earlier findings, that the property was commenced-conversion cropland.

In 2005, NRCS and the Corps jointly promulgated guidance, which stated that a previous designation as prior-converted cropland would be valid if a property was devoted to agricultural use but not if it had

[761 F.3d 387]

changed to a nonagricultural use (the “change-in-use policy”). In 2009, the Corps released an Issue Paper and Memorandum (collectively, the “Stockton Rules”) for JDs made in the Jacksonville District in Florida. These documents applied the 2005 Guidance to five properties in the Everglades and found that they were not prior-converted croplands because they had changed from an agricultural to a nonagricultural use.

In May 2009, Belle submitted to the Corps an application for a 404 permit to “conduct clearing and excavation activities to facilitate construction of a regional landfill” on the property. In June 2009, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (“LDEQ”) sent a letter to Belle, stating that the Corps had made a determination that a large portion of the proposed landfill site was considered wetlands. LDEQ further stated that Belle's Louisiana solid-waste permit would require a major modification that reflected the wetlands requirements in Louisiana regulations, LAC 33:VII.709.A.7–8, and that Belle should submit its major-modification application no later than 120 days after it received a decision on its 404 permit application. Belle subsequently abandoned its 404 permit application.

Almost two years later, in January 2011, on Belle's request and after a field inspection by a district engineer, the Corps issued an initial JD, which stated that part of the property was wetlands and subject to the CWA such that, as Belle apparently previously had sought, a 404 permit would be required prior to filling the site. Belle appealed the decision through the Corps's administrative appeal process. After an appeal meeting, site visit, and review, the division engineer found that portions of Belle's administrative appeal had merit. On remand, after additional investigation and review, the Corps upheld the determination that part of the property is wetlands.

Belle sued in district court for declaratory and injunctive relief to set aside the JD as unlawful. The district court granted the Corps's motion to dismiss on the ground that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over Belle's claims because the JD is not final agency action reviewable in court under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). Belle timely appealed. On appeal, Belle argues that the district court has subject-matter jurisdiction to review its three claims: (1) that the JD is arbitrary and capricious and should be invalidated; (2) that the administrative appeal process, as applied to Belle, unconstitutionally deprived Belle of liberty and property interests without due process of law; and (3) that the Corps promulgated the change-in-use policy without the proper APA rulemaking procedures, and in violation of an injunction, and improperly applied that policy in the JD.

II.

We review de novo a district court's dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). Ctr. for Biological Diversity, Inc. v. BP Am. Prod. Co., 704 F.3d 413, 421 (5th Cir.2013). “The United States may not be sued except to the extent it has consented to such by statute.” Shanbaum v. United States, 32 F.3d 180, 182 (5th Cir.1994). The APA provides such a waiver for claims “seeking relief other than money damages.” 5 U.S.C. § 702; see King v. U.S. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 728 F.3d 410, 416 (5th Cir.2013); Armendariz–Mata v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, Drug Enforcement Admin., 82 F.3d 679, 682 (5th Cir.1996). Where, as here, no relevant agency statute provides for judicial review, the APA authorizes judicial review only of “final agency action for which there is no other adequate

[761 F.3d 388]

remedy in a court.” 5 U.S.C. § 704. If there is no final agency action, a court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. Am. Airlines, Inc. v. Herman, 176 F.3d 283, 287 (5th Cir.1999); see also Sierra Club v. Peterson, 228 F.3d 559, 565 (5th Cir.2000) (“Absent a specific and final agency action, we lack jurisdiction to consider a challenge to agency conduct.”).

“As a general matter, two conditions must be satisfied for agency action to be final: First, the action must mark the consummation of the agency's decisionmaking process—it must not be of a merely tentative or interlocutory nature. And second, the action must be one by which rights or obligations have been determined, or from which legal consequences will flow.” Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 177–78, 117 S.Ct. 1154, 137 L.Ed.2d 281 (1997) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “In evaluating whether a challenged agency action meets these two conditions, this court is guided by the Supreme Court's interpretation of the APA's finality requirement as ‘flexible’ and ‘pragmatic.’ ” Qureshi v. Holder, 663 F.3d 778, 781 (5th Cir.2011) (citing Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 149–50, 87 S.Ct. 1507, 18 L.Ed.2d 681 (1967)). “The APA's judicial review provision also requires that the person seeking APA review of final agency action have ‘no other adequate remedy in court.’ ” Sackett v. EPA, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 1367, 1372, 182 L.Ed.2d 367 (2012) (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 704).

In Sackett, 132 S.Ct. at 1371, the Supreme Court revisited the issue of final agency action under the CWA. The Sacketts filled a portion of their undeveloped property with dirt and rocks in preparation for building a house. Id. at 1370. The EPA then issued a compliance order that contained findings that the property contained wetlands under the CWA and that the Sacketts had discharged fill material into the wetlands. Id. at 1370–71. The order directed the Sacketts immediately to undertake restoration of the property per an EPA plan and to provide to the EPA access to the site and all documentation relating to the site. Id. at 1371. The Sacketts disagreed with the order, but the EPA denied their request for a hearing. Id. The Sacketts sued, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of subject-matter...

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31 practice notes
  • Cambranis v. Pompeo, Case No. 5:19-CV-0238-JKP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • March 24, 2020
    ...489. While frequently relied upon by other courts, Alabama-Coushatta is not without criticism. See Belle Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 761 F.3d 383, 395 n.5 (5th Cir. 2014) (questioning and distinguishing), cert. granted, judgment vacated sub nom. Kent Recycling Servs., LLC v. U.S. Army......
  • Rowan Court Subdivision 2013 Ltd. v. Coporation, CIVIL ACTION NO. 15-870-JWD-RLB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Middle District of Louisiana
    • August 11, 2016
    ...that this two-prong framework used in Alabama-Coushatta was criticized by the Fifth Circuit in Belle Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 761 F.3d 383, 395 (5th Cir. 2014). However, Belle was ultimately vacated by the United States Supreme Court in Kent Recycling Servs., LLC v. U.S. Army Co......
  • Villarreal v. Horn, CIVIL NO. 1:15-CV-111
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • July 29, 2016
    ...statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331"does not provide a general waiver of sovereign immunity." Belle Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs , 761 F.3d 383, 395 (5th Cir.2014) (quoting Shanbaum v. United States , 32 F.3d 180, 182 (5th Cir.1994) ). Plaintiffs have the burden to establish that sovereign immuni......
  • Mackenzie v. Castro, Civil Action No. 3:15-CV-0752-D
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • March 16, 2017
    ...other remedy in a court." 5 U.S.C. § 704.5 The requirements of § 704 are jurisdictional. See e.g., Belle Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 761 F.3d 383, 388 (5th Cir. 2014) ("If there is no final agency action, a court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction." (citing Am. Airlines, Inc. v. Herman......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Cambranis v. Pompeo, Case No. 5:19-CV-0238-JKP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • March 24, 2020
    ...489. While frequently relied upon by other courts, Alabama-Coushatta is not without criticism. See Belle Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 761 F.3d 383, 395 n.5 (5th Cir. 2014) (questioning and distinguishing), cert. granted, judgment vacated sub nom. Kent Recycling Servs., LLC v. U.S. Army......
  • Rowan Court Subdivision 2013 Ltd. v. Coporation, CIVIL ACTION NO. 15-870-JWD-RLB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Middle District of Louisiana
    • August 11, 2016
    ...that this two-prong framework used in Alabama-Coushatta was criticized by the Fifth Circuit in Belle Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 761 F.3d 383, 395 (5th Cir. 2014). However, Belle was ultimately vacated by the United States Supreme Court in Kent Recycling Servs., LLC v. U.S. Army Co......
  • Villarreal v. Horn, CIVIL NO. 1:15-CV-111
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • July 29, 2016
    ...statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331"does not provide a general waiver of sovereign immunity." Belle Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs , 761 F.3d 383, 395 (5th Cir.2014) (quoting Shanbaum v. United States , 32 F.3d 180, 182 (5th Cir.1994) ). Plaintiffs have the burden to establish that sovereign immuni......
  • Mackenzie v. Castro, Civil Action No. 3:15-CV-0752-D
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • March 16, 2017
    ...other remedy in a court." 5 U.S.C. § 704.5 The requirements of § 704 are jurisdictional. See e.g., Belle Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 761 F.3d 383, 388 (5th Cir. 2014) ("If there is no final agency action, a court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction." (citing Am. Airlines, Inc. v. Herman......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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