Home » Case Summaries » 2015 » California Dump Truck Owners Ass’n v. Nichols, 778 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2015)

 
 

California Dump Truck Owners Ass’n v. Nichols, 778 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2015)

 

The California Dump Truck Owners Association (Dump Trucks)—a trade organization—brought suit against the California Air Resources Board (CARB), challenging the legality of the Truck and Bus Regulation (Regulation) under California’s State Implementation Plan (SIP).[1] Dump Trucks alleged that the Regulation was preempted by federal standards. CARB responded that the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approval of the SIP as a whole—and thus the Regulation in particular—removed subject matter jurisdiction from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California.[2] The district court agreed and dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Dump Trucks filed both an appeal and a petition for review of EPA’s approval of the regulation. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the petition as untimely and affirmed the district court.

Under the Clean Air Act (CAA),[3] each state must implement national air quality standards within its borders.[4] To do so, states must adopt a SIP for the “implementation, maintenance, and enforcement” of these standards.[5] After EPA approves a SIP, it becomes federal law.[6] CARB adopted the Regulation[7] as part of its SIP in 2008. The Regulation required pollution filters and low-emission engines on heavy duty diesel trucks.

Before the regulation took effect, Dump Trucks sought an injunction against the Regulation’s enforcement and a declaration that the Regulation was pre-empted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA).[8] The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) intervened as a defendant. While the suit was pending, CARB submitted the Regulation to EPA, and EPA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in July 2011.[9] In its Notice, EPA specifically recognized CARB’s authority to implement the regulation and stated that EPA knew of “no obstacle under Federal or State law” to that implementation.[10]

EPA approved the Regulation in April 2012, and it took effect on May 4, 2012.[11] Shortly thereafter, NRDC alerted the district court of EPA’s approval of the regulation, and both parties briefed the question of whether EPA’s approval deprived the court of jurisdiction. The district court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under CAA section 307(b)(1).[12] The Ninth Circuit reviewed the appeal de novo.

The Ninth Circuit began with a review of the statutory text. Under CAA section 307(b)(1), “[a] petition for review of . . . [EPA]’s action in approving or promulgating any implementation plan . . . which is locally or regionally applicable may be filed only in the United States Court of Appeals for the appropriate circuit.”[13] By its plain text, section 307(b)(1) thus deprives district courts of any jurisdiction over these claims. Dump Trucks argued that this section did not apply because it had challenged the Regulation before it was approved by EPA.

The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument. Reviewing cases from the Second, Fourth, and Eighth Circuits, the court explained that it would look not only to the facial allegations in the complaint, but also to the practical impact of the claim. In this case, the court determined that Dump Trucks’ suit challenged the EPA approval of the SIP. Because an injunction against the enforcement of the state regulation would greatly undermine the power of the SIP, the court determined that Dump Trucks’ suit fell under section 307(b)(1) of the CAA and was therefore required to have been initiated in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit further held that the claim fell under section 307(b)(1) because Dump Trucks’ claim of preemption would challenge EPA’s statement that it was not aware of any “obstacle under Federal of State Law in CARB’s ability to implement” the Regulation.[14] The court did note that the case was unusual in that EPA’s action after the complaint had divested the district court of jurisdiction, but explained that other circuits and the Supreme Court had suggested that subsequent agency action could deprive courts of jurisdiction.[15] The court explained that the policy goals of funneling all challenges to SIPs into the circuit courts of appeals was best served by applying section 307(b)(1) to the instant suit.

The Ninth Circuit also considered and rejected Dump Trucks’ claim that it would be unfair to apply section 307(b)(1) to dismiss the suit because Dump Trucks would have no avenue for relief. When Dump Trucks filed the suit, the Ninth Circuit did not have jurisdiction because EPA had not taken final action. Further, Dump Trucks argued that the district court’s dismissal occurring months after EPA’s final action prejudiced Dump Trucks, as its subsequent petition for review of EPA’s approval was denied as untimely. However, the court rejected those claims because Dump Trucks could have filed a timely petition for review of EPA’s approval of the Regulation, and had simply failed to do so. Further, Dump Trucks failed to submit comments to EPA during the approval process. Given those failures to act, Dump Trucks was at least partly at fault for the lack of meaningful relief available. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

 

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 13, § 2025.
  2. Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. § 7607(b)(1) (2012) (vesting exclusive jurisdiction in federal circuit courts of appeals).
  3. Id. §§ 7401–7671q (2012).
  4. Id. §§ 7409–7410.
  5. Id. § 7410(a)(1).
  6. Safe Air for Everyone v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 488 F.3d 1088, 1091 (9th Cir. 2007).
  7. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 13, § 2025.
  8. 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1) (2012).
  9. Approval and Promulgation of Implementation Plans, 76 Fed. Reg. 40652 (proposed July 11, 2011) (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. pt. 52).
  10. Id. at 40658.
  11. Approval and Promulgation of Implementation Plans, 77 Fed. Reg. 20308 (Apr. 4, 2012) (codified at 40 C.F.R. pt. 52); 40 C.F.R. § 52.220(c)(410) (2012).
  12. See 42 U.S.C. § 7607(b)(1) (2012).
  13. Id.
  14. Approval and Promulgation of Implementation Plans, 76 Fed. Reg. 40,658 (proposed July 11, 2011) (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. pt. 52).
  15. Douglas v. Indep. Living Ctr. of S. Cal., Inc., 132 S. Ct. 1204, 1210 (2012) (explaining that respondents’ Supremacy Clause challenges to state regulations were in a “different posture” after federal agency approved the regulations, potentially requiring respondents to instead seek review of agency action); City of Seabrook v. Costle, 659 F.2d 1371, 1373 (5th Cir. 1981) (“Even if we assume . . . that the district court had jurisdiction of plaintiffs’ claim . . . the publication of the ‘final rule’ clearly left the district court without jurisdiction of the claim.”).
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