Case 27

Ad Hoc Committee to Save the Old Carnegie Library Building v. City of Atlanta, No. C77-541A (N.D. Ga. Apr. 7, 1977).

The city of Atlanta, Georgia, proposed to demolish the Carnegie Library and replace it with a new structure. The building was a National Historic Landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1965, the city had received a Federal grant to remodel the old library from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) under the Library Services and Construction Act. Under the grant agreement, the city was required to use the building as a library for the life of the building. If the city were to cease using the building as a library, it would be required to reimburse the Federal Government. If the city were to sell the building, it would have to give the Federal Government a percentage of the proceeds. When HEW learned that the city proposed to demolish the library, it issued a legal opinion concluding that the market value of the building, and thus the Government's fair share, was zero and that there was no necessity for Federal accountability in the construction of the new building.

Plaintiffs‹library card holders and residents‹sought to enjoin demolition, asserting that HEW's opinion was a release by the Federal Government of its interest in the building and constituted sufficient Federal action to trigger the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and Executive Order No. 11593.

First, the court determined that plaintiffs had standing to maintain the lawsuit. Not only were their interests in historic preservation within the zone of interests of NHPA and the Executive Order, but they had alleged sufficient injury-in-fact by stating that they were users of the library and their enjoyment of the library would be injured by its demolition. That a large population of citizens may incur the same injury cannot deny plaintiffs standing. Slip op. at 4.

The court disagreed with plaintiffs on the merits, however. Because HEW's regulations did not require the city to return the grant when a new building, dedicated to identical purposes, was to be constructed on the same site, the city could retain for the new building the equity represented by the Federal grant in the old building. The Federal Government would then have no legal interest in the old building. Id. at 6.

The court continued that even if the HEW legal opinion amounted to a release of the Federal interest, such a release would not be sufficient Federal involvement to invoke NHPA, NEPA, or Executive Order No. 11593, for "the plaintiffs here are simply spinning too gossamer a web of Federal involvement." Id.

The court denied plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction and granted defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Id.

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