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Washington Park Lead Comm. v. EPA

Citation: 29 ELR 20540
No. 2:98cv421, (E.D. Va., 12/01/1998)

The court holds that residents of a predominately African American low-income housing project may assert claims of discrimination and continued segregation against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a city, and a housing authority. The residents' claims are based on a selected Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) remedy for a contaminated foundry adjacent to the housing project. The cleanup plan called for the removal and relocation of all residents of privately owned residential property adjacent to the site. Under the record of decision (ROD), the housing project residents would remain in the cleanup area. The court first holds that the residents sufficiently alleged standing to bring an equal protection claim against EPA. Even though the conditions of segregation and discriminatory land use may not fairly be traced to EPA's actions, viewing the facts alleged in the light most favorable to the residents, the complaint can be read to allege discriminatory action on the part of EPA in its selection of the overall remedy and that the residents were injured thereby. The court also holds that at this stage of the litigation the residents have pled standing and requested a remedy demonstrating a live case or controversy against the city and the housing authority.

The court then holds that the residents' claims are not barred by the statute of limitations. The cause-of-action for the selected remedy did not accrue until judgment was entered on the consent decree, not when the ROD was issued. In addition, the court holds that the residents' claims are not barred by laches. The residents participated in the decisionmaking process at every available opportunity. The court further holds that the residents are not collaterally estopped from bringing their suit. The residents were not parties to the consent decree, the residents are not in privity with any of the parties to the consent decree, and the residents' interests are opposed to the interests of the parties to the consent decree.

The court next holds that the residents sufficiently alleged that the site owner acted under color of state law as is required to obtain relief under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The complaint alleges that the remedial plan, endorsed and implemented by the site owner, violated the residents' equal protection rights and that the site owner engaged in the implementation of a discriminatory cleanup remedy. The court also holds that the CERCLA § 113(h) bar on federal court jurisdiction does not preclude the residents from raising their constitutional claims. The court further holds that the residents sufficiently alleged claims under the Equal Protection Clause and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Thomas J. Henderson
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
1450 G St. NW, Ste. 400, Washington DC 20005
(202) 662-8600

Counsel for Defendants
Robert H. Foster
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000