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League to Save Lake Tahoe v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


July 30, 2009

LEAGUE TO SAVE LAKE TAHOE, A CALIFORNIA NON-PROFIT CORPORATION; FRIENDS OF TAHOE VISTA, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TAHOE REGIONAL PLANNING AGENCY, A SEPARATE LEGAL ENTITY CREATED BY BI-STATE COMPACT APPROVED BY THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS, TAHOE VISTA PARTNERS, LLC, A LIMITED LIABILITY CORPORATION, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF THE COUNTY OF PLACER; AND COUNTY OF PLACER, DEFENDANTS.

ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS

League to Save Lake Tahoe and Friends of Tahoe Vista (collectively, "Plaintiffs") brought this action against Tahoe Regional Planning Agency ("TRPA") and Tahoe Vista Partners, LLC for declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the TRPA Code of Ordinances and for a writ of mandate. Plaintiffs subsequently amended their complaint to include a Seventh Cause of Action for violations of the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"), California Public Resources Code § 21000 et seq. against the Board of Supervisors of the County of Placer and the County of Placer (collectively, "County Defendants"). The County Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Seventh Cause of Action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1).(Docket #49) Plaintiffs opposed the Motion.(Docket #69) Defendant Tahoe Vista Partners filed a joinder in the County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Docket #70) For the reasons stated below, County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.*fn1

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs brought this action to challenge TRPA's approval of the Tahoe Vista Partners, LLC timeshare resort development to be located at 6873 North Lake Blvd., Placer County, California (the "Project"). Second Amended Complaint ¶ 17. Plaintiffs allege that TRPA approved the Project without requiring an environmental impact statement ("EIS") as required by law, instead relying on an environmental assessment/environmental impact report ("EA/EIR"). Id. Plaintiffs later amended their complaint, adding allegations that the County Defendants violated CEQA by approving the EA/EIR prepared in conjunction with the Project. Id. ¶ 32. County Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), arguing that the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the CEQA claim.

OPINION

Rule 12(b)(1) permits a Court to dismiss a claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Both parties concede that this Court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' CEQA claim against the County Defendants independent of the other claims in the Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs argue, however, that the Court has supplemental jurisdiction over the CEQA claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Courts have supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims where federal and state law claims "form but one constitutional 'case' and derive from a common nucleus of operative fact" as federal claims. Mendoza v. Zirkle Fruit Co., 301 F.3d 1163, 1173 (9th Cir. 2002)(internal citations omitted)(citing United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966)). "In exercising its discretion to decline supplemental jurisdiction, a district court must undertake a case-specific analysis to determine whether declining supplemental jurisdiction comports with the underlying objective of most sensibly accommodating the values of economy, convenience, fairness and comity."

Bahrampour v. Lampert, 356 F.3d 969, 978 (9th Cir. 2004). A court may decline to exercise jurisdiction over a supplemental state law claim if: (1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law, (2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction, (3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, or (4) in exceptional circumstances, there are other compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).

Plaintiffs argue that because both the TRPA and the County Defendants relied on the same EA/EIR to approve the same Project, the two claims share a common nucleus of operative fact. County Defendants, on the other hand, argue that because the documents were reviewed by two separate boards using two different standards, there is not a common nucleus of operative fact. Furthermore, County Defendants argue that CEQA raises complex issues of state law that should be addressed by state courts. They note that California state courts have specialized procedures for handling CEQA matters, which would enable Plaintiffs' CEQA claim to be adjudicated on an expedited basis.

Plaintiffs' CEQA claim shares a common nucleus of operative fact with their other claims. The claim involves the approval of the same Project using the same EA/EIR document. In fact, other federal courts have exercised supplemental jurisdiction over CEQA claims in similar circumstances. See, e.g., City of Carmel-by-the-Sea v. United States DOT, 123 F.3d 1142 (9th Cir. 1997); South Pasadena v. Volpe, 418 F.Supp. 854 (C.D. Cal. 1976).

Furthermore, judicial economy would be served by adjudicating all of Plaintiffs' claims in a single action. Although County Defendants argue that Plaintiffs would be able to proceed in state court on their CEQA claim in an expedited manner, Plaintiffs would still have to start from scratch, filing a new action. On the other hand, this Court has already set a CEQA hearing date pursuant to California Public Resources Code § 21167.4(a) on November 18, 2009. Judicial resources would be conserved by allowing Plaintiffs to bring their claims together in a single action. Accordingly, the Court shall exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' CEQA claim.

ORDER

For the reasons stated above, County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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