Case 10

River v. Richmond Metropolitan Authority, 359 F. Supp. 611 (E.D. Va.), aff'd per curiam, 481 F.2d 1280 (4th Cir. 1973).

The city of Richmond, Virginia, proposed to build a system of expressways. One of the highways, the Downtown Expressway, was to cut through a historic canal that had been filled with dirt and paved years before. Although none of the funds for construction of the Downtown Expressway had come from Federal sources, funding for other parts of the system had. There had been no Federal involvement in the planning of the Downtown Expressway, and the road had never been treated as Federal by the State authorities. There was evidence, however, that Federal funding for other parts of the system had hinged on the city's assurances that the Downtown Expressway would be built to link with the federally funded segments. Plaintiffs alleged violation of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and other environmental statutes.

The court first found that it had jurisdiction not only over the Federal defendants under the Administrative Procedure Act but also over the non Federal defendants, who had allegedly taken advantage of the benefits conferred by Federal law and whose activities would otherwise make a sham of the Federal statutory requirements. 359 F. Supp. at 622. Furthermore, in discussing the amount in controversy required by 28 U.S.C. § 1331 to establish Federal court jurisdiction, the court found that it need not consider the fact that plaintiff's alleged injury might not add up to more than "symbolic damages" because the pecuniary result of the litigation to defendants might exceed $10,000. [Ed. note: The $10,000 amount in controversy has since been abolished.] A court may find jurisdiction from the viewpoint of either party. Id. at 623. The court declined, however, to hear the State constitutional claims under its pendent jurisdiction. Id.

Second, the court found that although the nonprofit corporation plaintiff did not have standing on its own under the Administrative Procedure Act since it had only a public interest in the area, the corporation could represent the interests of its members. These members, also plaintiffs, had alleged that the construction of the expressway would injure their use and enjoyment of the canal area. This was found to be sufficient injury-in-fact, and their interests were within the zone of interests protected by NHPA. Id. at 625.

Next, the court rejected defendants' claim that the action should be barred by laches because plaintiffs had been aware of the proposed freeway for seven years, concluding that the plaintiffs could not reasonably have been expected to begin the litigation until after a 1972 decision regarding the siting of the expressway or until 1970, when the Federal agency gave its final funding approval. Id. at 627.

The court recognized the importance of environmental statutes and the especially heavy burden that defendants must bear to show laches in such suits. The standard that the court applied was whether the costs of altering or abandoning the proposed route would certainly outweigh the benefits that might accrue therefrom to the general public. The court concluded that the location of the Downtown Expressway could have been modified until 1972 and plaintiffs might have secured their relief until that time without court action. Id. at 628.

Reaching the merits of the case, the court rejected plaintiffs' argument that the Federal funding of other parts of the system made the Downtown Expressway "Federal." There was no Federal participation in the planning of the expressway, and the possibility that Federal funds might be secured in the future for highway construction was not sufficient to make the expressway Federal. That the State chose to use its Federal highway grant money for other parts of the system to avoid compliance with Federal environmental laws for the Downtown Expressway was found to be irrelevant. Id. at 634.

The court also rejected plaintiffs' argument that the system of highways was essentially one project and the Downtown Expressway could not be treated separately. Even though the city perceived the highway system as unified and interdependent, it did not necessarily follow that the roads comprised a single project. Id. The court considered several factors regarding the planning and location of the roads, but could not find that the federally funded roads and the Downtown Expressway constituted a single unified project or had so little value in their own right that separate construction would be considered arbitrary or irrational. Id. at 635. The court concluded that there had not been project splitting to avoid the requirements of Federal law. Id. at 636.

Moreover, even if the expressway system were viewed as one project, the court found that there was not sufficient Federal contact to cause the whole system to be Federal. Therefore, Federal statutory requirements, such as those imposed by NHPA, did not apply.

Finally, plaintiffs argued that they had a cause of action under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 because the Downtown Expressway was to cut through the old canal. The court held that plaintiffs had standing to maintain a private cause of action under this act. The Rivers and Harbors Act is broad enough to encompass historic values within its zone of interests, id. at 637, and parties should be allowed to seek private redress for the creation of obstacles in navigable waters that result in injury to themselves. Id. at 639.

However, the court concluded that the canal, because it was filled with dirt and covered with a parking lot, was not one of the navigable waters of the United States, and thus the project was not subject to the act. Id. at 640. The court granted summary judgment for defendants.

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