Castenson v. City of Harcourt

Citation86 F.Supp.2d 866
Decision Date08 March 2000
Docket NumberNo. C 99-3031-MWB.,C 99-3031-MWB.
PartiesDavid CASTENSON, Kristi Castenson, Barbara Cummins, and Velma Castenson, Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF HARCOURT, and Roy Tallman, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Mayor of the City of Harcourt, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa

Blake Parker, Blake Parker Law Office, Fort Dodge, Iowa, for plaintiffs.

Robert Goodwin, Goodwin Law Office, P.C., Ames, Iowa, for defendants.


BENNETT, District Judge.

                TABLE OF CONTENTS
                I. INTRODUCTION ................... 869
                     A. Procedural Background ....... 869
                     B. Factual Background .......... 870
                 II. LEGAL ANALYSIS ................. 874
                     A. Standards For Summary
                Judgment .................. 874
                     B. The Parties' Contentions .... 875
                     C. The False Certification
                Claim ..................... 875
                        1. Nature of the claim ...... 875
                        2. Authority for the
                claim .................. 876
                        3. Is the claim amenable
                to summary judgment
                             ........................ 878
                     D. The FONSI Notice Claim ...... 881
                        1. The notice requirement
                             ........................ 882
                        2. Were the Castensons
                entitled to personal
                notice of the FONSI
                             ........................ 884
                III. CONCLUSION ..................... 886

One question that seems to arise with increasing frequency in modern times is, where shall we put facilities everybody needs, but nobody wants on their doorstep? In this case, that vexatious question is raised by the defendant city's attempts to locate a sewage lagoon on the plaintiffs' farm. However, whether or not their farm is the right place for the sewage lagoon — and the plaintiffs vehemently assert that it is not — is not an issue before the court. Rather, the issues before the court, as is so often the case, are primarily procedural rather than substantive: The plaintiffs claim that the city improperly obtained funds to pursue the sewer project that includes the sewage lagoon and violated the plaintiffs' civil rights by failing to give them proper notice of a finding of no significant environmental impact from the sewage lagoon. Cross-motions for summary judgment on these claims are now before the court.

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs David and Kristi Castenson, Barbara Cummins, and Velma Castenson (collectively the Castensons) brought this action on April 29, 1999, against defendants City of Harcourt, Iowa, and Roy Tallman, the Mayor of the City. Count I of the Castensons' complaint alleges that the City obtained federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the state administering agency, the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED), to pursue a sewer project upon Mayor Tallman's false certification that the City had complied with all applicable requirements of state and federal law. The Castensons allege that, contrary to Mayor Tallman's certification, the City had not complied with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, because the City had not performed either an archaeological survey or a wetlands survey as part of an environmental assessment (EA). Thus, the Castensons contend that the City obtained the CDBG funds on the basis of a false certification of compliance with federal law. As relief on this claim, the Castensons seek declaratory judgment and injunctive relief requiring return of the improperly obtained CDBG funds and barring receipt of further funds for the sewer project until the project is in compliance with the law. Count II of the Castensons' complaint is an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in which the Castensons allege that the City violated their civil rights by failing to provide them with notice of the City's finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for the sewage lagoon, as required by NEPA and regulations of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), prior to seeking release of the CDBG funds for the sewer project. The Castensons seek declaratory judgment of a violation of NEPA's notice requirements, compensatory and punitive damages, and reasonable attorneys fees as relief on this claim.

On June 21, 1999, in lieu of answering the complaint, the City and the Mayor filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, in which the defendants assert that the Castensons' complaint fails to state claims upon which relief can be granted. The City and the Mayor filed an amended motion to dismiss and amended and substituted brief in support of that motion on July 12, 1999. In their amended and substituted motion, the City and the Mayor advance several grounds for dismissal. First, they contend that the Castensons' complaint is premature, because, at least at the time the Castensons filed their lawsuit, the City was not required to send a FONSI notice to the Castensons, as they were not then known to be persons with a potential interest in the location of the sewage lagoon. Second, the City and the Mayor contend that there is no private right of action under NEPA and that the Castensons cannot properly pursue their claims through the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 702, because they have not established that they are aggrieved within the "zone of interest" sought to be protected by NEPA. Third, the defendants assert that the Castensons have not complied with various regulations, including failure to make a timely challenge to the sewer project, as required under 24 C.F.R. §§ 58.45 and 58.74; failing to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by 24 C.F.R. § 58.76, by first directing their objections to the release of funds to HUD or the IDED; and seeking a remedy — return of the CDBG funds — that is not permitted under 24 C.F.R. § 58.75. Next, the defendants contend that the Castensons have not alleged any action "under color of state law," as required for a § 1983 action, because they have alleged only violations of federal law, not state law. Finally, the City and the Mayor contend that the statute of limitations expired on any claim of failure to provide individual notice of the City's FONSI that was published on June 12, 1996, before the Castensons filed their lawsuit. The defendants appended various affidavits and documents to their motion to dismiss.

On July 20, 1999, the Castensons resisted the motion to dismiss, countering each of the defendants' grounds for dismissal, and likewise appending a large volume of documents in support of their resistance. After an extension of time to do so, the defendants filed a reply brief on September 9, 1999, adding yet more documents to the record. On October 23, 1999, this court notified the parties that, in light of the voluminous documents offered in support of and resistance to the motion to dismiss, some of which appeared to be part of the public record, and others of which were not, the motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) would be converted into and considered as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties were given to and including November 8, 1999, within which to supplement the motion and resistance thereto, if appropriate, in light of this conversion.

On November 8, 1999, the City and the Mayor filed a supplement to their converted motion for summary judgment. On November 12, 1999, the Castensons filed their own cross-motion for summary judgment, incorporating therein a resistance to the defendants' converted motion. The City and the Mayor moved to strike the Castensons' motion for summary judgment on November 17, 1999, asserting that their own motion was the only one properly before the court. On January 11, 2000, the court denied the defendants' motion to strike, concluding that, regardless of whether the defendants' motion to dismiss was converted to a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment was timely and appropriate under Rule 56(a), because the plaintiffs' motion was filed more than twenty days after the commencement of this action. The court therefore set deadlines for further briefing on the Castensons' motion for summary judgment and set oral arguments on the pending dispositive motions for March 1, 2000. The oral arguments were later moved to February 29, 2000.

Returning to the Castensons' November 12, 1999, motion for summary judgment, the Castensons assert that they, not the defendants, are entitled to summary judgment on both of their claims. As to Count I, the Castensons contend that the undisputed record establishes that no archaeological assessment, as required by NEPA, was done or timely done prior to obtaining CDBG funding. As to Count II, the Castensons contend that it is undisputed that they were entitled to notice of the June 12, 1996, FONSI and that they did not receive such notice. Thus, they contend that their due process rights have been violated as a matter of law. The defendants resisted the Castensons' motion for summary judgment on January 24, 2000, and the Castensons filed a reply on February 7, 2000.

The court heard oral arguments on the parties' dispositive motions on February 29, 2000. The Castensons were represented at the oral arguments by Blake Parker of the Blake Parker Law Office in Fort Dodge, Iowa. The City and Mayor Tallman were represented by Robert Goodwin of the Goodwin Law Office, P.C., in Ames, Iowa.

Following oral arguments, on March 1, 2000, the City and the Mayor proffered one further supplement to their resistance to the Castensons' motion for summary judgment. The Castensons notified the court by letter dated March 3, 2000, that they had no objections or response to this final supplementation of the record.

B. Factual Background

The court will discuss here only the nucleus of undisputed facts pertinent...

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