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Jersey Heights Neighborhood Ass'n v. Glendening

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 21102
Nos. 98-1804, 174 F.3d 180/(4th Cir., 04/05/1999)

The court reinstates a neighborhood association's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Federal Aid Highway Act (FAHA) claims against federal and state agencies for failing to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) addressing the construction of a bypass around Salisbury, Maryland, but affirms the dismissal of the remaining claims. The court first holds that the association's NEPA and FAHA claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) challenging pre-record of decision (ROD) activities are time barred. The association's NEPA and FAHA claims are subject to the six-year statute of limitation for civil actions against the United States. Here, the claims accrued on August 17, 1989, when the ROD for the bypass siting decision was issued, but the association did not instigate its suit until 1997.

Similarly, the court holds that the association's claims against the state defendants under 42 U.S.C. §§1983 and 1985 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act are time barred. All three statutes borrow their limitations periods from state law, which in Maryland is three years. And the record supports the conclusion that the association knew or should have known of its alleged injuries by August 17, 1989. The court then rejects the association's arguments for avoiding the effects of the statutes of limitations. The issuance of the ROD constitutes final agency action, ripeness would have posed no bar to their suit in 1989, and the bypass project as a whole does not constitute a continuing violation that has endured into the present. The court also holds that the district court properly dismissed the association's post-ROD Title VI and §§1983 and 1985 claims against the state defendants. All of the conduct for which the association complains occurred by 1992, over five years before it filed suit.

The court next holds, however, that the district court erroneously failed to address the association's FAHA and NEPA claims concerning the state and federal highway administrations' decisions not to prepare an SEIS in 1995 when the final EIS was reevaluated. In its complaint, the association challenged the decision not to prepare an SEIS. It alleged that the federal and state agencies' reevaluation gave insufficient weight to the project's effects on their neighborhood and inadequately considered the necessity of mitigating measures in violation of NEPA and FAHA. These alleged potential violations fall squarely within the six-year statute-of-limitations period for those statutes. Consequently, the court also reinstates the association's pendant claims under Maryland's analogous environmental statute.

The court then affirms on different grounds the dismissal of claims against the federal defendants under 42 U.S.C. §1985 and Title VI. These statutes do not provide a cause of action against the United States. The association's claims, therefore, are barred by sovereign immunity. Last, the court affirms the dismissal of the association's claims under the Fair Housing Act. The association failed to state a claim because the highway site selection process is too remotely related to the housing interests that are protected by the Fair Housing Act.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Steven P. Hollman
Hogan & Hartson
Columbia Sq.
555 13th St. NW, Washington DC 20004
(202) 637-5600

Counsel for Defendants
Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill, Ass't Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
200 St. Paul Pl., Baltimore MD 21202
(410) 576-6300

Before Wilkins and King, JJ.