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Clark v. Volpe

Citation: 2 ELR 20459
No. No. 72-1631, 461 F.2d 1266/(5th Cir., 07/10/1972)

Fifth Circuit adopts district court holding that doctrine of laches bars class action by concerned users of New Orleans city park to enjoin in-progress construction of a six-lane, federal-aid highway through the park. Doctrine of laches can apply to a suit brought by private citizens asserting a public right, despite plaintiffs' claim of derivative sovereign immunity as "private attorneys general." Pennsylvania Environmental Council v. Bartlett, 1 ELR 20622; Harrisburg Coalition Against Ruining the Environment v. Volpe, 1 ELR 20237. Equitable doctrine of laches will be applied where the delay in filing suit is unreasonable and would cause prejudice to the adversary. Here plaintiff was chargeable with knowledge of 15 years of publicity concerning the proposed highway. Although plaintiff was entitled to rely on presumption that public officials would act in accordance with applicable statutes, he may not unreasonably delay suit after time his causes of action arise. A delay of almost nine months from the time of notice of actual construction was unreasonable. After the land has been leveled and several million dollars expended for highway development, injunctive relief would substantially prejudice defendants. The purpose of statutes designed to protect the environment is not served if suit is delayed until after the environment is substantially altered, but rather where inquiry into the environmental impact proceeds before an area is affected.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Richard M. Troy, Jr.
Suite 316, Executive House
348 Baronne
New Orleans, La. 70112

Counsel for Defendants
Gerald J. Gallinghouse U.S. Attorney
John R. Schupp Assistant U.S. Attorney
500 St. Louis St.
New Orleans, La. 70130

Counsel for Intervenors Boh Brothers Construction Co., Inc.
Ralph L. Kaskell, Jr.
1800 Hibernia Bank Bldg.
New Orleans, La. 70112

Counsel for Intervenors City of New Orleans
David K. Cressy Deputy City Attorney
Room 2W23
City Hall
New Orleans, La. 70112