Californians for Renewable Energy v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency & Scott Pruitt, Case No: C 15-3292 SBA

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
Writing for the CourtSAUNDRA BROWN ARMSTRONG Senior United States District Judge
Docket NumberCase No: C 15-3292 SBA
PartiesCALIFORNIANS FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY, ASHURST BAR/SMITH COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION, CITIZENS FOR ALTERNATIVES TO RADIOACTIVE DUMPING, SAINT FRANCIS PRAYER CENTER, SIERRA CLUB, and MICHAEL BOYD, Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY and SCOTT PRUITT, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in his official capacity, Defendants.
Decision Date30 March 2018

CALIFORNIANS FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY,
ASHURST BAR/SMITH COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION,
CITIZENS FOR ALTERNATIVES TO
RADIOACTIVE DUMPING, SAINT FRANCIS PRAYER CENTER, SIERRA
CLUB, and MICHAEL BOYD, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY and
SCOTT PRUITT, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
in his official capacity, Defendants.

Case No: C 15-3292 SBA

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA OAKLAND DIVISION

March 30, 2018


ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; AND DENYING DEFENDANTS' RULE 12 MOTION TO DISMISS AND GRANTING ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO THE SIXTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF

Dkt. 93, 98, 108

Plaintiffs CAlifornians for Renewable Energy ("CARE"), Ashurst/Bar Smith Community Organization ("ABSCO"), Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping ("CARD"), Saint Francis Prayer Center ("Prayer Center") and Sierra Club are public interest organizations located throughout the country that represent the interests of their members and constituents, who reside in predominately non-white communities. Plaintiff Michael Boyd ("Boyd") is the President of CARE.

Between 1992 and 2003, the aforementioned organizations, including Boyd, separately filed a total of five administrative complaints with the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VI"). Those complaints alleged that decisions by state and local agencies to grant permits approving the operation of environmentally hazardous facilities (i.e., power plants, a refinery, a hazardous waste facility and a landfill) in minority communities violate Title VI's prohibition against

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discrimination by recipients of public funds.

The EPA accepted each of the five complaints submitted by Plaintiffs for investigation, the earliest case accepted in 1995 and the most recent being accepted in 2005. Under governing regulations, the EPA had 180 days from accepting each complaint to issue preliminary findings and any recommendations, if appropriate. Yet, as of the filing of this action, the EPA had not issued preliminary findings or otherwise resolved any of Plaintiffs' complaints. As a result of the EPA's failure to act, Plaintiffs filed the instant action against the EPA and its Administrator, Scott Pruitt (collectively "the EPA"), pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 701, et seq. The Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), the operative pleading before the Court, avers that the EPA violated its mandatory duty under 40 C.F.R. § 7.115 to issue preliminary findings and any recommendations for achieving compliance within 180 days of accepting a Title VI administrative complaint for investigation. Plaintiffs seek an order to "compel agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed." 5 U.S.C. § 706(1).

The parties are presently before the Court on (1) the EPA's Motion to Dismiss and, in the Alternative, Rule 56 Motion for Summary Judgment on All Claims, and (2) Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. 93, 98. Having read and considered the papers filed in connection with this matter and being fully informed, the Court hereby: DENIES the EPA's motion to dismiss; GRANTS the EPA's motion for summary judgment as to Claim Six of the SAC; GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment as to Claims One through Five of the SAC; and DENIES Plaintiffs' motion as to Claim Six.1

I. BACKGROUND

A. LEGAL OVERVIEW

Title VI prohibits a recipient of federal funds from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. To implement Title VI, Congress directed each federal agency to adopt regulations to effectuate Title VI. 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1. In

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the case of the EPA, its regulations specify that any "person who believes that he or she or a specific class of persons has been discriminated against in violation of this part may file a complaint" with the EPA's Office of Civil Rights ("OCR").2 40 C.F.R. § 7.120(a). Title VI regulations may be enforced by the agency only, as they do not create a private right of action. Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287, 293 (1985).

Section 7.120, which is entitled "Complaint Investigations," provides that "[t]he OCR shall promptly investigate all complaints filed under this section unless the complainant and the party complained against agree to a delay pending settlement negotiations." Within twenty days of receiving the complaint, "the OCR will review the complaint for acceptance, rejection, or referral to the appropriate Federal agency." Id. § 7.120(d)(1)(i). If the complaint is accepted, OCR must notify the complainant and the accused party. Id. § 7.120(d)(1)(ii). The recipient thereafter has thirty days to respond to the complaint. Id. § 7.120(d)(1)(iii). "OCR shall attempt to resolve complaints informally whenever possible. When a complaint cannot be resolved informally, OCR shall follow the procedures established by paragraphs (c) through (e) of § 7.115." Id. § 7.120(d)(2)(i).

Section 7.115(c) specifies that within 180 days of the start of the investigation, "the OCR will notify the recipient ... of: (i) Preliminary findings; (ii) Recommendations, if any, for achieving voluntary compliance; and (iii) Recipient's right to engage in voluntary compliance negotiations where appropriate." Id. § 7.115(c). If the investigation reveals no violation, the OCR "will dismiss the complaint and notify the complainant and recipient." Id. § 7.120(g).

In cases where there is a preliminary finding of non-compliance, the recipient may either (1) agree with the OCR's recommendations or (2) submit a written response disputing the correctness of the preliminary findings or that compliance may be achieved through steps other than those recommended by the OCR. Id. § 7.115(d). If the recipient does not pursue one of these actions within fifty days of receiving the preliminary findings,

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the OCR must issue a formal written determination of noncompliance to the recipient and notify the Assistant Attorney General for the United States Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division within fourteen days thereafter. Id. §§ 7.115(d), 7.25.

"The recipient will have ten (10) calendar days from receipt of the formal determination of noncompliance in which to come into voluntary compliance. Id. § 7.115(e). If the recipient fails to meet this deadline, the OCR must start proceedings under paragraph (b) of § 7.130," id. § 7.115(e), to "deny, annul, suspend or terminate EPA assistance," id. § 7.130(b). Upon notice of a formal determination of noncompliance, the recipient has ten calendar days to achieve voluntary compliance. Id. § 7.115(e).

B. THE PARTIES AND THEIR RESPECTIVE ADMINISTRATIVE COMPLAINTS

1. CARE and Boyd

Plaintiff CARE is a California non-profit corporation formed in 1999 which disseminates information and takes legal action to promote renewable energy sources, among other activities. SAC ¶ 8, Dkt. 90. Plaintiff Boyd is the President of CARE. Id. ¶ 9.

On or about April 17, 2000, Boyd filed an administrative complaint with the EPA to challenge the permitting process and ultimate permitting decisions by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District ("BAAQMD"), the California Air Resources Board ("CARB"), and the California Energy Commission ("CEC"), relating to two gas-fired power plants (i.e., the Los Medanos Energy Center and Delta Energy Center). Id. ¶¶ 10, 52. The complaint alleges that those decisions violate Title VI because both plants are located in the predominantly non-white and low-income community of Pittsburg, California. Id. ¶¶ 10, 53. The EPA accepted the complaint for investigation in December 2001 as to BAAQMD and CARB. Id. ¶ 55.

2. Sierra Club

Plaintiff Sierra Club is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation whose mission is to promote environmental concerns. Id. ¶ 22. The Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter is the Texas Chapter of the Sierra Club and is not separately incorporated. Id. ¶ 23.

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The chapter has 22,000 members and is dedicated to protecting Texas' various natural resources. Id.

On or about April 13, 2000, the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter filed an administrative complaint with the EPA, which accepted the complaint for investigation in June 2003. Id. ¶¶ 24, 62-65 & Ex. 10. The complaint alleges discrimination on the basis of race and color in connection with a permit amendment issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ("TCEQ") to an ExxonMobil refinery operation in Beaumont, Texas. Id. ¶¶ 62-64.

3. Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping

Plaintiff Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping ("CARD") is a nonprofit organization founded in 1978 and based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Id. ¶ 16. CARD's mission is to address environmental injustices negatively affecting low-income and underserved communities of color in New Mexico. Id.

On or about September 12, 2002, CARD filed an administrative complaint with the EPA concerning the permitting process and ultimate decision by the New Mexico Environment Department ("NMED") to permit the Triassic Park hazardous waste facility in Chaves County in southeastern New Mexico, an area with a high percentage of people living in poverty and Hispanic residents. Id. ¶ 71. EPA accepted the complaint against NMED for investigation on or about June 27, 2005. Id. ¶ 74.

4. Ashurst Bar/Smith Community Organization

Plaintiff Ashurst Bar/Smith Community Organization ("ABSCO") is headquartered in Tallassee, Alabama. Id. ¶ 12. ABSCO strives for positive change and a better quality of life for residents of the Ashurst Bar/Smith Community, an unincorporated area located in the southernmost tip of Tallapoosa County, Alabama. Id.

On or about December 15, 2003, an individual on behalf of ABSCO filed an administrative complaint with the EPA to challenge the Alabama Department of Environmental Management's ("ADEM") decision to permit the Stone's Throw...

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