SW Williamson County Assoc. v. Slater

Decision Date12 September 2000
Docket NumberNo. 00-5075,00-5075
Citation243 F.3d 270,2001 WL 245779
Parties(6th Cir.2001) Southwest Williamson County Community Association, Inc., a non-profit Tennessee Corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant, 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; James Scapellato, Defendants-Appellees. Argued:
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Nashville. No. 97-00734--Todd J. Campbell, District Judge. [Copyrighted Material Omitted]

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] Joe W. McCaleb, Hendersonville, Tennessee, for Appellant. Michael L. Roden, ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Nashville, Tennessee, Michael W. Catalano, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellees.

Michael L. Roden, ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Nashville, Tennessee, Michael W. Catalano, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellees.

Before: BOGGS and MOORE, Circuit Judges; DOWD, District Judge. *

OPINION

KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Southwest Williamson County Community Association ("Association") appeals the district court's denial of its application for a preliminary injunction to halt construction on Route 840 South, a 77-mile length of highway which was designed to bypass Nashville, Tennessee by running south of the city and connecting Interstate 40 ("I-40") West, which radiates west of the city, and I-40 East. The issue before us is whether the district court abused its discretion in denying the Association's motion for a preliminary injunction after finding that the Association was not likely to succeed on the merits of its case. The district court entertained the Association's motion for a preliminary injunction on remand from this court to determine three issues, only two of which were argued to the district court and only one of which is before us on appeal: whether construction of the fifty-three mile corridor of the highway constitutes a "major Federal action[]" under 42 U.S.C. §4332(C) such that the Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA") is required to respond to the state's Environmental Assessment ("EA") with certain documentation on the highway's environmental impact. Because we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion, we AFFIRM the denial of the preliminary injunction and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. FACTS

This case comes to us on appeal for the second time, and we therefore incorporate as factual background our earlier opinion, Southwest Williamson County Community Ass'n v. Slater, 173 F.3d 1033 (6th Cir. 1999) (Southwest II). The Association, a non-profit corporation comprised of members who live and work in Williamson County, first brought suit in federal district court against federal and state defendants seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to halt construction of Route 840 South. 1 The highway, designed to provide an alternative route around Nashville, begins at I-40 West, runs south of the city through several counties including Williamson County, and crosses two federal interstates, I-65 South and I-24, before terminating at I-40 East. 2 The Association's suit alleged that defendants were violating the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §4321 et seq.3 and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act ("ISTEA"), 23 U.S.C. §§134, 135. It also alleged a state law claim under the Petroleum Products and Alternative Fuels Tax Act, Tenn. Code Ann. §67-3-2003. The 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 the ISTEA claim after finding that the statute did not authorize a private right of action. The district court then declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim.

On appeal, this court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded in part the district court's decision. 4 On the NEPA claims, which involved allegations that the defendants violated FHWA regulations that implement NEPA as well as a violation of NEPA itself, this court affirmed the district court's dismissal on statute-of-limitations grounds as to claims involving two EAs. 5 We concluded that because the FHWA had responded to each EA with a FONSI, "final agency action" had occurred pursuant to the APA and that, consequently, the relevant statute of limitations had expired. See Southwest II, 173 F.3d at 1036. However, as to a third EA analysis of the fifty-three mile highway corridor from I-24 to I-40 W excluding the interchanges, which was voluntarily prepared by the state in 1989, no action was taken by the FHWA. The federal defendants argued that they were not required to respond to the EA because construction of the highway corridor was not a "major Federal action[]" under 42 U.S.C. §4332(C). This court remanded to the district court to determine whether, indeed, the highway corridor was a major federal action for NEPA purposes. We then vacated the district court's decision with respect to the ISTEA claim and remanded for further proceedings, noting that the district court should review its decision to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim in light of the "potential continued viability" of the federal claims. Southwest II, 173 F.3d at 1037-38 & n.2.

Following remand, the federal defendants argued to the district court that the case was moot; the Association lacks standing; there is no private right of action under ISTEA; and the doctrine of laches should bar the litigation. Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 19-21 (Federal Defendants' Response on Remand). As the district court noted, the federal defendants completely failed to address this court's question whether the construction of the corridor of Route 840 South constitutes a major federal action, notwithstanding the absence of federal funding, such that NEPA requirements apply. See Southwest Williamson County Community Ass'n v. Slater, 67 F. Supp. 2d 875, 878 n.5 (M.D. Tenn. 1999) (Southwest III) ("Although the pivotal issue in this case is whether 840 South is a 'major federal action,' the Federal Defendants do not address how the issue applies to the totality of the federal actions alleged by the Plaintiff."). The Association then filed an amended complaint in the district court seeking a declaratory judgment that the unfinished portion of Route 840 South is a "major federal action" as well as an order to require the federal defendants to prepare an EIS for the unfinished portion of the highway; a preliminary injunction halting construction; and a permanent injunction. The Association pressed its NEPA claims as well as its state law claim, but abandoned its ISTEA claim. The Association then filed a motion for a preliminary injunction.

After holding a hearing, the district court denied the Association's motion for a preliminary injunction. The district court first assessed the Association's likelihood of success on the merits of its claims, the first prong of the relevant analysis for a preliminary injunction. Analyzing the relevant statutory language and associated regulations, the district court noted that "most circuit courts look to whether a federal agency has the ability to influence or control the non-federal activity" when assessing whether such activity constitutes a "major Federal action[]" under NEPA. Southwest III, 67 F. Supp. 2d at 880. After evaluating the numerous federal actions which the Association alleges constitute proof of the federalization of the highway, 6 the district court determined that the actions in aggregate did not "give FHWA authority to control the 840 South Highway Project and thereby turn it into a 'major federal action.'" Southwest III, 67 F. Supp. 2d at 882. The district court then briefly evaluated the other three factors pertinent to a request for a preliminary injunction, namely whether irreparable harm will occur in the absence of an injunction; whether substantial harm to others will occur should an injunction issue; and whether the public interest is advanced by the injunction. Presuming, arguendo, that the highway constituted a major federal action and that irreparable harm will occur to the surrounding environment without an injunction, the district court found that the cost to the state, the inconvenience to the public, and the Association's long delay in bringing suit weighed against the issuance of a preliminary injunction. See Southwest III, 67 F. Supp. 2d at 885-86. The district court also found that the Association was unlikely to succeed in federal court on the merits of its state law claim based on the abstention doctrine since the Association was already litigating the state law claim in state court. See id.at 885.

II. JURISDICTION

The district court had jurisdiction of this action under 28 U.S.C. §1331. Following the district court's order, the Association filed a motion with the district court for interlocutory review under 28 U.S.C. §1292(b). The district court granted the motion, but this court denied it and instructed the district court clerk to file the motion as a regular notice of appeal under 28 U.S.C. §1292(a)(1). We therefore have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1292(a)(1) over the Association's timely filed appeal.

III. MOOTNESS

The federal defendants have persistently argued throughout this appeal that the instant case is moot. Article III of the U.S. Constitution dictates that this court must have a...

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