Case 36

Hall County Historical Society v. Georgia Department of Transportation, 447 F. Supp. 741 (N.D. Ga. 1978).

Plaintiff, a historical society, sought to enjoin the construction of a proposed highway to be built with Federal aid in the vicinity of, but not within, the Green Street Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, alleging that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) had violated Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and other laws. The State was also a defendant, and an intervenor had joined the litigation, asserting an ancillary claim of breach of agreement against the State. The State had taken a piece of property within the historic district in exchange for a promise to the intervenor to provide an access lane during construction. Plaintiff specifically challenged FHWA's delegation of historic preservation responsibilities to the State, which had been effected by a memorandum of understanding between FHWA and the State. Defendants moved to dismiss, alleging lack of standing, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and laches.

The court found, first, that plaintiff had standing to challenge FHWA's compliance with the various Federal statutes involved but not to challenge the memorandum of understanding between FHWA and the State. Standing was based on the fact that several of plaintiff's members resided in or owned property within the historic district and allegedly could suffer esthetic and environmental harm to their property. 447 F. Supp. at 747.

Second, the court held that it had subject matter jurisdiction because there was a substantial probability that the value of the rights to be protected‹aesthetic and environmental‹exceeded the jurisdictional amount required by 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a). The court also assumed ancillary jurisdiction of the intervenor's claims. Id. at 748.

Third, the court held that laches did not bar the suit because plaintiff had been diligent in communicating its objections to the State and FHWA from the time it first became aware of the highway plan in 1975 until the time the suit was finally filed in 1977. Id. at 748-49.

Fourth, the court rejected plaintiff's claim that the State agency's agreement with the intervenor regarding the lot and the access lane amounted to a use of historic land that would trigger the requirements of Section 4(f). Because defendants acted in good faith to avoid any physical use of land in the historic district, plaintiff failed to carry its burden of showing physical use. The court rejected plaintiff's claim that the secondary effects of the project on the district constituted "constructive use" of the district land. To show "constructive use," plaintiff must present evidence of a direct and significant impact. Moreover, Congress did not intend to protect commercial property from potential economic decline when it enacted Section 4(f). The court found that the intervenor was not entitled to specific performance of the agreement because of the strong public policy vesting full control of State highways in the State. Id. at 749-50. The court denied the requests for injunctive relief under Section 4(f). Id. at 750.

The court did hold, however, that FHWA had improperly delegated its NHPA responsibilities to the State. Although State officials may participate in the historic review process, NHPA requires that studies, reports, and evaluations and determinations of effect, adverse effect, or no effect be the independent actions and decisions of the Federal agency and not simply rubber-stamps of the State's work. Id. at 751-52.

The court enjoined the State from constructing the part of the project that would affect the historic district until FHWA had complied with NHPA or until the State had reimbursed the Federal Government for all funds for project construction that had been advanced and had refused all further funds. Id. at 752.

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