Environmental justice court case
(Rosemere Neighborhood Association V EPA 2009)
The Rosemere Neighborhood Association v EPA case took place on 14th April 2009 before a panel of judges in the Seattle District of Washington. This was an appeal case where the appellant, Rosemere Neighborhood Association, a non-profit community organization operating in Clark County was appealing against the district court’s dismissal of its case against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The case in question had been filed in 2005 where the neighborhood association claimed retaliation by the EPA after filing complaints over discrimination in the use of federal funds pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The appellant also had complained that the defendant had failed to respond to their claims on time and acted in violation of their own regulatory guidelines. The claim of retaliation stemmed from the EPA’s decision to revoke the organization’s formal registration, a move that they argued was an act of victimization for filing a complaint against the agency.
Environmental law cited in the case
The plaintiff had sought the intervention of the court after what it termed as impermissible retaliation by the defendant who, after receiving the complaints of the plaintiff opened an inquiry that led to the revocation of their status as a formal neighborhood association. However, the court ruled that there was no sufficient ground to uphold the plaintiff’s claim of retaliation and the request to have the defendant compelled to act on the complaints filed before them would not make a significant change as they had already responded to the said complaints. Therefore the court dismissed the case as moot and cleared the defendant of any wrongdoing. The plaintiff was not satisfied with the district court’s decision to dismiss the case as mute and therefore filed an appeal through their attorney to have the district court’s decision reversed.
Scope of mootness
Mootness in law is a term used to mean a legal procedure that has no consequence if a judgment is issued. The rationale behind this law is that a plaintiff’s demand for action against the defendant would not change the situation in question or the defendant has already carried out the action that the plaintiff wanted. In the case between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Rosemere neighborhood Association, the court made a determination that the request by the Rosemere neighborhood Association for the court to compel the EPA to act on the complaints filed before it would be legally inconsequential as the EPA had already demonstrated willingness to address the concerns raised. The court also dismissed the case based on the fact that the plaintiff’s claim that the action of the defendant was retaliatory had no merit.
The scope of mootness extends to the extent that a decision by the court affects the situation being debated. Moot cases are always dismissed because under the constitution of the United States, there are limitations in the cases that federal courts can adjudicate. For any party claiming mootness therefore, they bear the burden of proving that the subject in question has been addressed and that a future recurrence is highly unlikely.it is upon the defendant therefore, to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the matter being adjudicated has already been addressed and therefore proceeding with the court process would have little or no impact (Wright & Kane. 2016).
Position and arguments of the plaintiff
Rosemere, who were the plaintiff in this case, argued that the claim of mootness by the district court in the determination of their case against the EPA was not informed by sound legal procedures. The plaintiff, through their attorney argued that the claim by the defendant that they had set up mechanisms to address future concerns by the plaintiff was not sufficient ground to dismiss the case. The plaintiff argued further that expression of the defendant’s intention to prevent a recurrence of a similar incident was just an intention and there was no guarantee that they will carry out the said measures. In claiming mootness, the defendant had argued before the court that owing to the reforms they had made in their organization and specifically hiring more staff to speed up the processing of claims similar to the one filed by the plaintiff, it was highly unlikely that the incidence would recur.
The plaintiff however claimed that the argument by the defendant did not apply to them as they were ready to file another complaint with the Agency if they were assured of a timely response. The plaintiff further argued that despite the assurance of the defendant in the district court that they have put in place the necessary measures to prevent a recurrence of a similar incidence, they still failed to comply with the regulatory guidelines in other complaints filed by other parties. They argued that the claim of an isolated untimeliness in addressing their complaint was not isolated after all since it kept being repeated. The existence of this possibility of the plaintiff filing another complaint was the basis of overturning the district court’s judgment as it did not satisfy the requirements of mootness (Glenn. 2017).
Position and argument of the defendant
The defendant had maintained that the district court’s decision of mootness in the case files by the plaintiff should be upheld. They based this position on their argument that they had already satisfied the requirement of the plaintiff in the suit and that the likelihood of a similar complaint being filed in future was very little. They further argued that they had acted on the complaint of the plaintiff despite some challenges and that the claimed delays in action were just an isolated incidence of untimeliness. They showed willing ness to prevent untimeliness in future by demonstrating before the court that they had even gone an extra step of increasing the number of staff that were in charge of handling complaints.
The hiring of more staff was a justification that their untimely response to the plaintiff’s complaint were unintended and that they were making an effort of ensuring it does not happen again. The defendant therefore urged the Seventh Circuit judges to uphold the decision by the district court to dismiss the case as moot.
Final decision of the judge and the justification for the decision
After hearing the appeal by the Rosemere Neighborhood Association against the district court’s ruling, the seventh Circuit judges gave a determination that the case was not moot and that the district court had erred in ruling the case as moot. The justification of this decision was that what the EPA had termed as an isolated case of untimeliness had become a consistent pattern of delays. The judges noted that the EPA had failed to address similar complaints of civil rights violations on time even after claiming to have made changes in their personnel department to speed up complaints processing according to its regulatory deadlines.
The judges noted that the defendant had consistently failed to respond to complaints filed before it and only responded when lawsuits were filed against them. This, according to the Seventh Circuit judges was a clear indication that the moot claim lacked merit because despite the defendant’s claimed intention to prevent similar claims from being filed, they failed to put that intention to practice and therefore were liable for violation of their regulatory deadlines in processing complaints. Another basis of this decision was that the claim of mootness by the defendant could only be upheld if the plaintiff had stated their intention not to file another complaint against the EPA or to discontinue its operations. Their plaintiff however expressed the intention to file a similar complaint if they were satisfied that it would be addressed on time (Low et al. 2016).
The judges therefore ruled that the district court had erred in the moot judgment and therefore the plaintiff’s case was not moot. A decision was therefore made for further proceedings of the case as argued by the plaintiff.
Looking at the case, I can personally say I agree with the judges’ decision to reverse the decision of the district court. The claim of moot in the case was definitely not correct as the defendant did not play their role effectively of ensuring that similar complaints were not filed in future. If the mute decision was upheld, it meant that the defendant would continue violating their own regulatory guidelines. Being an organization that was involved in matters of serious public interest, complaints like the one filed by the Rosemere Neighborhood required serious attention and failure to address them was putting public interests at risk. Allowing their moot claim would also have encouraged incompetence. The judges therefore made the right determination based on the greater public good.
Wright, C., & Kane, M. (2016). Law of federal courts. West Academic.
Glenn, C. (2017). Upholding Civil Rights in Environmental Law: The Case for Ex Ante Title VI Regulation and Enforcement. NYU Rev. L. & Soc. Change, 41, 45.
Low, P. W., Jeffries, J. C., & Bradley, C. A. (2016). Federal courts and the law of federal-state relations. Foundation Press.