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Montlake Community Club v. Mathis

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

August 20, 2019

MONTLAKE COMMUNITY CLUB, et al., Plaintiffs,
DANIEL M. MATHIS, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 53) and motion for voluntary dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41 (Dkt. No. 64), and Defendants' cross-motions for summary judgment (Dkt. Nos. 46, 52). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby DENIES Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 53), GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion for voluntary dismissal (Dkt. No. 64), and GRANTS Defendants' cross-motions for summary judgment (Dkt. Nos. 46, 52) for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit arises out of the “SR 520, I-5 to Medina: Bridge Replacement and HOV Project” (the “Project”), a multi-decade highway improvement project intended to expand capacity on the State Route 520 bridge in King County, Washington, and make other related infrastructure improvements to the bridge and adjoining highway. (See Dkt. Nos. 43 at 15, 34-1 at 106-08); see also Coalition for a Sustainable 520 v. The United States Department of Transportation, et al., 881 F.Supp.2d 1243, 1247-54 (W.D. Wash. 2012) (describing the Project's preferred design alternative). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts that would arise from the planned closure and demolition of a grocery store, the Montlake Market (the “Market”), as necessitated by various Project refinements and construction activities. (Dkt. Nos. 33-1 at 11, 43 at 2.) The Market is located adjacent to the State Route 520 interchange with Montlake Boulevard (the “Montlake Interchange Area”). (Dkt. Nos. 1 at 11; 33-13 at 16, 177-78.)

         Plaintiff Montlake Community Club is a nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining and improving the quality of life within Seattle's Montlake neighborhood. (Dkt. No. 43 at 5.) Plaintiff BTF Enterprises, Inc. (“BTF”) is an owner of the Market. (Id.)[1] Defendant Daniel M. Mathis is named in his official capacity as Division Administrator for the Washington Division of Defendant the Federal Highway Administration (“FHWA”). (Id. at 6.) Roger Millar is named in his official capacity as Washington Secretary of Transportation, in which capacity he is charged with overseeing and approving Defendant the Washington State Department of Transportation (“WSDOT”) projects throughout Washington State. (Id.)

         In June 2011, the FHWA and WSDOT published the final environmental impact statement (“FEIS”) for the Project, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C). (Id. at 15.) The preferred alternative design reviewed in the FEIS did not consider the closure and demolition of the Market. (Id. at 15-16; see Dkt. No. 33-1 at 11.) In August 2011, the FHWA signed the Record of Decision (“ROD”) explaining its basis for choosing the preferred alternative design and summarizing mitigation measures that would be incorporated into the Project. (Dkt. Nos. 43 at 11, 33-15 at 89); 23 C.F.R. § 771.127(a). The ROD also contained a copy of the Programmatic Agreement that Defendants entered with various stakeholders as required by the National Historic Preservation Act (“NHPA”), 54 U.S.C. § 300101-320303. (Dkt. Nos. 43 at 17, 34-1 at 132.) The Programmatic Agreement identified mitigation measures that could be utilized during completion of the Project in order to minimize the impacts on historic properties including the Montlake Historic District, adjacent to where the Market is located.[2] (Dkt. No. 33-15 at 218-19.)

         In July 2012, a lawsuit alleging that the FEIS and ROD violated NEPA was rejected by another court in this district. See Coalition for a Sustainable 520, 881 F.Supp.2d at 1259. Since then, the Project has moved forward significantly, but also undergone several design changes and refinements. (See, e.g., Dkt. No. 33-1 at 9) (listing environmental reevaluations completed in response to design changes). In October 2016, the FHWA approved a reevaluation of the FEIS (the “2016 Reevaluation”) to assess the environmental impacts related to various design changes. (Dkt. No. 33-13 at 171-87.) The 2016 Reevaluation considered, among other things, how certain design changes to the Montlake Interchange Area would require condemning the parcel of property where the Market and the adjacent Montlake 76 Gas Station (the “76 Gas Station”) are located. (Id. at 178.) Regarding these changes, the 2016 Reevaluation stated that:

The property would be used to build some of the project's planned improvements, such as retaining walls and fill, sidewalks, connections to shared-use trails, and utility relocations and modifications. The property may also be used for construction staging, traffic shifts, and transit access during construction. The Montlake 76 Service Station would be decommissioned and demolished as part of construction activities.

(Id.) While the 2016 Reevaluation expressly anticipated the closure and demolition of the 76 Gas Station, it did not state that the Market would be closed or demolished. (Id.) After analyzing the environmental impacts that these proposed design refinements would have-including on traffic, noise, and adjacent cultural resources such as the Montlake Historic District-the 2016 Reevaluation concluded that “no new significant adverse effects, beyond those described in the [FEIS] and ROD, would result from the changed conditions.” (Id. at 181, 178-190.)

         Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on November 28, 2017. (Dkt. No. 1.) In their original complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants had changed the scope of the Project such that the Market would have to be condemned and destroyed. (Id. at 13-14.) Plaintiffs asserted that Defendants had violated NEPA by failing to consider the environmental impacts associated with the closure and demolition of the Market. (Id. at 15.) Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that the 2016 Reevaluation had not adequately considered the impacts that closure of the Market would have on traffic and on travel times “for Montlake residents who routinely use [the Market].” (Id. at 13.)

         In July 2018, Defendants approved an environmental reevaluation (the “2018 Reevaluation”) that evaluated the environmental impacts associated with the closure and demolition of the Market. (See Dkt. No. 33-1 at 9-10.) The 2018 Reevaluation sought to evaluate “how the proposal for the closure and demolition of the [Market] would affect the natural and built environment and whether those effects differ from the effects described in the [FEIS], [ROD], and subsequent environmental reevaluations and memoranda.” (Id. at 9.) The 2018 Revaluation analyzed the environmental impacts on transportation, noise and vibration, and cultural resources, among others. (Id. at 13-16.) The 2018 Reevaluation concluded that “no new significant adverse effects, beyond those described in the [FEIS] and ROD, would result from” closure and demolition of the Market. (Id. at 13.) Plaintiffs filed an amended supplemental complaint alleging various claims related to the 2018 Reevaluation. (Dkt. No. 43)


         In their amended supplemental complaint, Plaintiffs allege three claims for relief. (See Dkt. No. 43 at 22-25.) First, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants failed to issue a supplemental environmental impact statement (“SEIS”) regarding the closure and demolition of the Market as required by NEPA, and that Defendants' failure to do so was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 706. (Id. at 22-23.) Second, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' failure to revise the ROD in light of the proposed closure and demolition of the Market was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA. (Id. at 24.) Third, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated the NHPA by failing to adequately consider, evaluate, or propose mitigation for the impacts related to closure and demolition of the Market, specifically to the Montlake Historic District. (Id. at 24-25.) The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment on all claims. (See Dkt. Nos. 46, 52, 53.) The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment are based on a voluminous administrative record filed with and reviewed by the Court. (See Dkt. Nos. 33-36.)[3]

         A. Applicable Legal Standards

         1. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party demonstrates that no genuine dispute of material fact exists and that the Court can enter a judgment in favor of the moving party as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In making such a determination, the Court must view the facts and justifiable inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden to demonstrate that no genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to present specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). A genuine issue exists if the non-moving party presents evidence from which a reasonable factfinder, viewing the evidence in the light favorable to that party, could resolve the material issue in his or her favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 263.

         Summary judgment is particularly appropriate in cases involving judicial review of a final agency action. See Occidental Engineering Co. v. INS, 753 F.2d 766, 770 (9th Cir. 1985). Here, the parties agree that there are no genuine disputes of material fact and that the matter can be determined as a matter of law from the administrative record.

         2. APA and NEPA

         Under the APA, district courts may review final agency decisions made pursuant to NEPA. See Pit River Tribe v. U.S. Forest Serv., 469 F.3d 768, 778 (9th Cir. 2006). The APA allows a district court to set aside agency actions that are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). The Court applies a “narrow” standard of review and will only reverse an agency action if:

The agency relied on factors Congress did not intend it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, or offered an explanation that runs counter to the evidence before the agency or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.

Lands Council v. McNair, 537 F.3d 981, 987 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotations and citations omitted). This standard of review is “highly deferential, presuming the agency action to be valid and affirming the agency action if a reasonable basis exists for its decision.” See Ranchers Cattleman Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of Am. v. U.S. Dep't of Agriculture, 499 F.3d 1108, 1115 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

         NEPA requires that agencies prepare an environmental impact statement (“EIS”) for major federal actions “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C). NEPA “does not mandate particular substantive results, but instead imposes only procedural requirements.” Laguna Greenbelt, Inc. v. United States Dep't of Transp., 42 F.3d 517, 523 (9th Cir. 1994). NEPA requires an agency to take a “hard look” at the potential environmental consequences of proposed projects before taking action. Baltimore Gas & Elec. Co. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 462 U.S. 87, 97 (1983). NEPA also imposes a continuing duty to supplement previous environmental documents. Stop H-3 Ass'n v. Dole, 740 F.2d 1442, 1463 (9th Cir. 1984).

         An agency must supplement an EIS if new information or project changes point to significant impacts not addressed or considered in the original EIS.[4] See Marsh v. Oregon Nat. Res. Council, 490 U.S. 360, 374 (1989) (if “new information is sufficient to show that the remaining action will ‘affec[t] the quality of the human environment' in a significant manner or to a significant extent not already considered, a supplemental EIS must be prepared.”) (alteration in original); Westlands Water Dist. v. Dep't of Interior, 376 F.3d 853, 873 (9th Cir. 2004) (an SEIS is required if a new proposal “will have a significant impact on the environment in a manner not previously evaluated and considered.”) (citation omitted).

         “[T]he [agency] must initially determine the significance of the impacts brought about by the proposed change in order to decide whether supplemental documentation is necessary.” Price Rd. Neighborhood Ass'n, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., 113 F.3d 1505, 1510 (9th Cir. 1997). To make this determination, an agency may conduct an environmental reevaluation. Id. (citing 23 C.F.R. § 771.129(c)). Thus, whether a supplemental EIS is ultimately necessary depends on the findings and conclusions reached by the agency in its reevaluation. Id. So long as the agency takes the requisite “hard look” at the significance of the environmental impacts arising from the proposed change, it has met its burden under the applicable regulations. See Id. Review of an agency's decision to not supplement an EIS is “controlled by the ‘arbitrary and capricious' standard of § 706(2)(A).” Marsh, 490 U.S. at 376; see also Friends of the Clearwater v. Dombeck, 222 F.3d 552, 556 (9th Cir. 2000) (an agency's decision “to forego an SEIS should not be set aside unless it was arbitrary or capricious.”).

         B. Standing

         Defendants challenge Plaintiff BFI's statutory standing to pursue its claims because it has “only an economic interest” in the litigation, which does not bring it within the “zone of interests” protected by NEPA. (Dkt. Nos. 46 at 13, 52 at 22.) Defendants do not, however, challenge Plaintiff Montlake Community Club's standing to bring claims under NEPA. (See Dkt. No. 46 at 9.) Plaintiff Montlake Community Club argues that because it has standing to bring its NEPA claims and Plaintiff ...

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