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South Camden Citizens in Action v. New Jersey Dep't of Envtl. Protection

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20675
Nos. No. 01-701, 145 F. Supp. 2d 505/(D.N.J., 05/10/2001)

The court holds that despite the U.S. Supreme Court holding in Alexander v. Sandoval, 121 S. Ct. 1511 (2001), that there is no private right-of-action to enforce disparate impact regulations promulgated under Civil Rights Act Title VI, §602, a community group may enforce the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) §602 disparate impact regulations against a New Jersey environmental agency for failing to consider the potential adverse, disparate impact of its decision to grant a cement manufacturing company's application for air permits to operate a proposed facility in a predominantly minority-inhabited community. Prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Sandoval, the court had held that the Agency's grant of air permits to the facility violated EPA's §602 regulations and that the community group had established a prima facie case of disparate impact discrimination based on race and national origin in violation of EPA's §602 regulations. After the Supreme Court's decision in Sandoval, the state and the cement manufacturer sought to vacate the court's opinion.

The court first holds that the Court's holding in Sandoval does not foreclose the group from bringing a claim for disparate impact discrimination, in violation of EPA's §602 implementing regulations, under 42 U.S.C. §1983. The Sandoval decision does not invalidate the §602 disparate impact regulations, and the decision does not foreclose the community from seeking to vindicate the rights they allege §602 and its implementing regulations create through §1983. Moreover, valid regulations, which may have the force and effect of law, may create rights that are enforceable under §1983. The court next holds that here, EPA's §602 implementing regulations confer a federal right on the community group enforceable under §1983. Section 602 disparate impact regulations were intended to benefit the class of person to which the members of the community group belong, namely persons of color. Further, the rights asserted by the group—to be free of discrimination resulting from the adverse disparate impact of a facially neutral air permitting policy implemented by a recipient of federal funding—is neither vague nor amorphous and is well within the competence of the judiciary to enforce. Title VI and EPA's implementing regulations also unambiguously impose a binding obligation on the states that is enforceable under §1983. In addition, Congress has neither expressly nor impliedly foreclosed the group's ability to enforce EPA's disparate impact regulations. Last, the court holds that injunctive relief vacating the air permits does not constitute prohibited retrospective relief in violation of the Eleventh Amendment. Therefore, the court holds that its original order issued prior to Sandoval remains in full force and effect.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Jerome Balter
Public Interest Law Center
125 S. 9th St., Ste. 700, Philadelphia PA 19107
(215) 627-7100

Counsel for Defendants
James M. Murphy, Deputy Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
R.J.H. Justice Complex
25 Market St., CN-080, Trenton NJ 08625
(609) 292-4925

Orlofsky, J.