Friday, September 18, 2009

Rosemere Neighborhood Association v. U.S. EPA

Sep 17: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 08-35045. The Rosemere Neighborhood Association (Rosemere) appealed the district court’s dismissal of its action against the U.S. EPA on "mootness grounds." The Appeals Court said, "We conclude that the district court erred in dismissing the case, because the voluntary cessation exception to mootness applies. We therefore reverse."

The dispute arises out of a complaint that Rosemere filed against the City of Vancouver, WA with the EPA's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) alleging that the City failed properly to utilize EPA funds to address lingering environmental problems in low-income and minority communities in the City. The City then opened an inquiry into Rosemere that eventually culminated in the revocation of Rosemere’s status as a formal neighborhood association. Rosemere then filed a second complaint with the OCR in December 2003, alleging retaliation by the City.

Some eighteen months lapsed with no action by the OCR, until Rosemere filed suit in federal district court in June 2005 against the EPA, seeking to compel the OCR to accept or reject the retaliation complaint. About six weeks later, the OCR notified Rosemere that it had accepted the complaint for investigation. EPA then moved to dismiss Rosemere’s action as moot. The district court granted the motion, concluding that the delay was nothing “more than an isolated instance of untimeliness and oversight,” and there was no evidence that the EPA’s failure to act was a “practice” the EPA might resume in the future.

The Appeals Court concluded, "We thus conclude that the district court erred in dismissing Rosemere’s action. As the Seventh Circuit held, 'when the relief sought is an order to the delaying agency to hurry up,' but the agency acts 'to moot [the] case by acting before [the] claim for relief can be decided,' such a sequence 'begs for an exception to the ordinary rules of mootness.' Lucien v. Johnson, 61 F.3d 573, 574-75 (7th Cir. 1995). Rosemere’s complaint is not moot. The judgment of the district court is reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).