Southwest Williamson County Community v. Slater, No. 3:97-0734.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtCampbell
Citation976 F.Supp. 1119
PartiesSOUTHWEST WILLIAMSON COUNTY COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION, a non-profit Tennessee corporation v. Rodney E. SLATER, in his official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation; Jane F. Garvey, in her official capacity as Acting Administrator, Federal Highway Administration; John Bruce Saltsman, Sr., in his official capacity as Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Transportation; and James Scapellato.
Docket NumberNo. 3:97-0734.
Decision Date15 September 1997

Page 1119

976 F.Supp. 1119
SOUTHWEST WILLIAMSON COUNTY COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION, a non-profit Tennessee corporation
v.
Rodney E. SLATER, in his official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation; Jane F. Garvey, in her official capacity as Acting Administrator, Federal Highway Administration; John Bruce Saltsman, Sr., in his official capacity as Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Transportation; and James Scapellato.
No. 3:97-0734.
United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division.
September 15, 1997.

Joe Wallace McCaleb, Hendersonville, TN, for plaintiff.

Michael L. Roden, Nashville, TN; Donald L. Corlew, Nashville, TN, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM

CAMPBELL, District Judge.


I. Introduction

This is an action for declaratory and injunctive relief to block the construction of 840-South1 through the Middle Tennessee counties of Dickson, Williamson and Rutherford pending compliance with certain federal and state environmental laws.

The Plaintiff, Southwest Williamson County Community Association, Inc., is a Tennessee non-profit corporation. The Complaint alleges that many members of the Association live and work in Williamson County and will be directly impacted by 840-S.

Page 1120

The Defendants are three federal officials sued in their official capacities — Rodney E. Slater, Secretary of Transportation; Jane F. Garvey, Acting Administrator, Federal Highway Administration; and James Scapellato, Division Administrator, Federal Highway Administration ("Federal Defendants") — and the Tennessee Commissioner of Transportation, John Bruce Saltsman, Sr., in his official capacity ("State Defendant").

II. Motions to Dismiss

Pending before the Court are Motions to Dismiss filed by the Federal Defendants (Docket No. 6) and the State Defendant (Docket No. 12) to which Plaintiff has filed responses in opposition. A hearing was held on the Motions on September 12, 1997. For the reasons described herein, the Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED.

The Complaint alleges four Counts pertaining to 840-S (Docket No. 1).

Count One alleges that the Federal and State Defendants have violated the Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA") regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"). 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.; 23 C.F.R. § 771. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants have violated certain public hearing requirements and have failed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS").

Count Two alleges that the Federal and State Defendants have violated NEPA. 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. Plaintiff asserts that the Environmental Assessments ("EA") and Findings Of No Significant Impact ("FONSI") issued by Defendants are incorrect and inadequate and that Defendants should have prepared an EIS.

Count Three alleges that the Federal and State Defendants have violated the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act ("ISTEA"). 23 U.S.C. § 134 et. seq.

Count Four alleges that the Tennessee Department of Transportation ("TDOT") has violated Tenn.Code Ann. § 67-3-121 (specific highway projects benefited by 1986 gasoline tax increases). This claim is based solely on state law.

The Federal Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint on the following grounds: (1) statute of limitations; (2) no justiciable case or controversy; (3) no prospective federal action; (4) standing; (5) no private right of action; and (6) laches. (Docket Nos. 6, 7, and 33).

The State Defendant, likewise, has moved to dismiss the Complaint on the following grounds: (1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction;2 (2) statute of limitations; (3) no private right of action; and (4) state law not conferring jurisdiction. (Docket Nos. 12, 14, and 35).

Plaintiff has filed briefs in opposition to the Motions to Dismiss (Docket Nos. 15 and 34).

During the pendency of the briefing process, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided Sierra Club v. Slater, 120 F.3d 623 (6th Cir.1997). The parties have filed supplemental briefs addressing issues raised by Sierra Club.

In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint. Broyde v. Gotham Tower, Inc., 13 F.3d 994, 996 (6th Cir.1994), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1128, 114 S.Ct. 2137, 128 L.Ed.2d 866 (1994). The motion should be granted only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of its claim which would entitle it to relief. Id.

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. State of Ohio ex rel. Fisher v. Louis Trauth Dairy, Inc., 856 F.Supp. 1229, 1232 (S.D.Ohio 1994). The purpose of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is to allow the defendant to test whether, as a matter of law, the plaintiff is entitled to legal relief even if everything alleged in the complaint is true. Mayer v. Mylod, 988 F.2d 635, 638 (6th Cir.1993).

Page 1121

In other words, in deciding a motion to dismiss, the function of the district court is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. City of Toledo v. Beazer Materials and Services, Inc., 833 F.Supp. 646, 650 (N.D.Ohio 1993). The district court is without authority to dismiss claims unless it can be demonstrated beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would entitle him to relief. Id.

III. Complaint

The Complaint, filed on July 14, 1997, contains the following matters pertinent to the statute of limitations issue.

Paragraph 9 of Section IV of the Complaint alleges the following facts:

The Defendant TDOT did announce and hold "open-house" type public hearings along the proposed Interstate 840S route beginning in December, 1986, and continuing until April, 1997. The Defendant TDOT did certify to the Federal Highway Administration in writing that the hearings were held in accordance with the applicable regulations and 23 USC 128. Additionally, the State Defendant TDOT did coordinate with Federal Defendants and did issue three NEPA documents, each one entitled Environmental Assessment. Each document was prepared by the Defendant TDOT. One Environmental Assessment prepared by the State Defendant was for Interstate 840S from 1-40W to 1-24 encompassing Dickson, Hickman, Maury, Williamson and Rutherford Counties, Tennessee. A second Environmental Assessment prepared by State Defendant was for Interstate 840S at the proposed interchange with 1-40W in Dickson County and 1-65S in Williamson County for which a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was issued by the Federal Defendants on May 18, 1990. A third Environmental Assessment prepared by State Defendant was for Interstate 840S at the proposed interchange with 1-24 in Rutherford County and I-40E in Wilson County for which a FONSI was issued by the Federal Defendants on February 13, 1989.

Paragraph 9, thus, alleges that the Defendants issued "three NEPA documents," each "entitled Environmental Assessment" upon which the Federal Defendants issued FONSI's on "May 18, 1990" and on "February 13, 1989." Paragraph 9 further alleges that the State Defendant held `open house' type public hearings" in "December, 1986, and continuing until April, 1997."

Count One of the Complaint alleges that TDOT held a "corridor hearing" on "March 7, 1989" and a "design hearing" on "April 10, 1997." (Complaint, Section V, ¶¶ 16 and 173 ). These public hearings were allegedly held in violation of certain procedural requirements of the FHWA regulations implementing NEPA. 23 C.F.R. § 771. Count Two alleges certain actions by the Defendants in February and November of 1989 (Complaint, Section V, ¶ 21).4

Page 1122

The Complaint asserts jurisdiction, in part, based on the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701, et seq. ("APA"). (Complaint, Section II).

IV. Counts One and Two

The Defendants have moved to dismiss Count One — Violation of FHWA Implementation Regulations of NEPA — and Count Two — Violation of NEPA — on the ground that the Complaint was not filed within the six year statute of limitations found in 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a). Defendants assert that the statute of limitations runs from the FONSI's issued on May 18, 1990 and February 13, 1989 and, therefore, the Complaint filed on July 14, 1997 is untimely. The only NEPA decisions of the FHWA alleged in the Complaint, according to Defendants, were the FONSI's and the underlying EA's regarding four interchanges.

Plaintiff argues that the statute of limitations has not run because a FONSI is not a final agency action for purposes of the APA. "According to the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) implementation of its environmental regulations found at 23 C.F.R. § 771.113, a FONSI, standing alone, is not the final agency action." (Plaintiff's Memorandum, Docket No. 15, at 3). Plaintiff asserts that under 23 C.F.R. § 771.113, final design activities cannot proceed until a FONSI is approved. A design public hearing was held on April 10, 1997. Therefore, the agency decision became final on April 10, 1997.

Plaintiff essentially claims that its cause of action did not accrue until all of the elements of 23 C.F.R. § 771.113 were completed. "Plaintiff's argument continues to be that Plaintiff's cause of action did not accrue until all of the elements and conditions required by 23 C.F.R. § 771.113 were met by both the FHWA and the TDOT." (Plaintiff's Response, Docket No. 34, at 6). Plaintiff reads 23 C.F.R. § 771.113 to "expressly mandate both a FONSI and 23 U.S.C. § 128 Public Hearing Transcripts and Certifications accepted by the FHWA before `the general project location and concepts described in the environmental document' are approved." (Plaintiff's Response, Docket No. 34, at 5).

The parties have cited no cases holding that a FONSI is or is not a final agency action under the APA.

The recent Sixth Circuit opinion in Sierra Club v. Slater, 120 F.3d...

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5 practice notes
  • Township of Belleville v. Federal Transit Admin., Civil Action No. 98-2836.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • December 9, 1998
    ...under the APA, plaintiff had established requisite elements of standing); Southwest Williamson County Community Assoc. v. Slater, 976 F.Supp. 1119, 1122 (M.D.Tenn.1997) (pointing out that no private right of action exists under NEPA and considering challenge under the In fact, a careful rea......
  • Highway J Citizens Group v. Mineta, No. 03-2644.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • November 5, 2003
    ...are intended to be the culmination of an agency's environmental assessment. Cf. Southwest Williamson County Cmty. Ass'n v. Slater, 976 F.Supp. 1119, 1123 (M.D.Tenn.1997) (finding that the issuance of an EIS is a final agency action), aff'd in part and vacated in part, 173 F.3d 1033 (6th Cir......
  • Southwest Williamson County Community Ass'n, Inc. v. Slater, No. 97-6526
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • April 28, 1999
    ...issued a memorandum opinion granting the defendants' motions to dismiss. See Southwest Williamson County Community Ass'n v. Slater, 976 F.Supp. 1119 III. ANALYSIS The Association's suit challenges the public hearing process and some documentation concerning the project that was prepared by ......
  • SW Williamson County Assoc. v. Slater, No. 00-5075
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • September 12, 2000
    ...district court, in a memorandum opinion, dismissed the Association's claims. See Southwest Williamson County Community Ass'n v. Slater, 976 F. Supp. 1119 (M.D. Tenn. 1997) (Southwest I). The district court found the NEPA claims barred by the applicable statute of limitations and dismissed t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Township of Belleville v. Federal Transit Admin., Civil Action No. 98-2836.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • December 9, 1998
    ...under the APA, plaintiff had established requisite elements of standing); Southwest Williamson County Community Assoc. v. Slater, 976 F.Supp. 1119, 1122 (M.D.Tenn.1997) (pointing out that no private right of action exists under NEPA and considering challenge under the In fact, a careful rea......
  • Highway J Citizens Group v. Mineta, No. 03-2644.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • November 5, 2003
    ...are intended to be the culmination of an agency's environmental assessment. Cf. Southwest Williamson County Cmty. Ass'n v. Slater, 976 F.Supp. 1119, 1123 (M.D.Tenn.1997) (finding that the issuance of an EIS is a final agency action), aff'd in part and vacated in part, 173 F.3d 1033 (6th Cir......
  • Southwest Williamson County Community Ass'n, Inc. v. Slater, No. 97-6526
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • April 28, 1999
    ...issued a memorandum opinion granting the defendants' motions to dismiss. See Southwest Williamson County Community Ass'n v. Slater, 976 F.Supp. 1119 III. ANALYSIS The Association's suit challenges the public hearing process and some documentation concerning the project that was prepared by ......
  • SW Williamson County Assoc. v. Slater, No. 00-5075
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • September 12, 2000
    ...district court, in a memorandum opinion, dismissed the Association's claims. See Southwest Williamson County Community Ass'n v. Slater, 976 F. Supp. 1119 (M.D. Tenn. 1997) (Southwest I). The district court found the NEPA claims barred by the applicable statute of limitations and dismissed t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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