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Shiffler v. Schlesinger

Citation: 7 ELR 20127
No. No. 76-1876, 548 F.2d 96/9 ERC 1839/(3d Cir., 01/12/1977)

The court affirms a lower court's denial of injunctive relief and grant of summary judgment for defendants in a suit challenging the legality of the Army's decision not to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) in conjunction with the realignment of a military installation. Defendants mistakenly assert that the negative EIS determination for a decision to consolidate military commands is committed to agency discretion by 10 U.S.C. § 125 and hence excepted from judicial review by § 701(a)(2) of the Administrative Procedure Act. A temporary postponement of the consolidation decision, which has been in the planning stages for ten years, because of judicial review to assure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will not interfere with the effective exercise of the Army's discretion in this area.The district court correctly denied injunctive relief on the basis of laches, however. In applying the laches doctrine in NEPA suits, the basic consideration is not the presence of inexcusable delay or administrative inconvenience, but whether an injunction forcing full procedural compliance with NEPA can still alter the substantive decision so as to produce environmental benefits. In this case, since the realignment was 85- to 90-percent completed when suit was filed, it is unlikely that preparation of an EIS would affect the shape of the relocation program. The district court thus did not abuse its discretion in withholding equitable relief. Because of its disposition of the case on the basis of laches, the court finds it unnecessary to decide the standing issue of whether plaintiffs' economic injuries come within the zone of interests protected by NEPA.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Michael D. Schottland
Thomas W. Cavanaugh, Jr.
Chamlin, Schottland, Rosen & Cavanaugh
268 Norwood Ave.
West Long Branch NJ 07764
(201) 229-3200

Counsel for Defendants
Jonathan L. Goldstein, U.S. Attorney
John J. Barry, Asst. U.S. Attorney
William E. Staehle, Asst. U.S. Attorney
Federal Building
907 Broad St.
Newark NJ 07102
(201) 341-2289

For himself, Hunter & Garth, JJ.