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La Cuna De Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle Advisory Committee v. United States Department of the Interior

July 13, 2012

LA CUNA DE AZTLAN SACRED SITES PROTECTION CIRCLE ADVISORY COMMITTEE; CALIFORNIAS FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY; ALFREDO ACOSTA FIGUEROA;
PHILLIP SMITH; PATRICIA FIGUEROA; RONALD VAN FLEET; CATHERINE OHRINGREIPP; RUDY MARTINEZ MACIAS; AND GILBERT LEIVAS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR;
KEN SALAZAR, IN THE OFFICIAL CAPACITY OF SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR; UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT;
ROBERT ABBEY, IN THE OFFICIAL CAPACITY OF DIRECTOR OF THE UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT; TERI RAML, IN THE OFFICIAL CAPACITY OF DISTRICT MANAGER OF THE CALIFORNIA DESERT DISTRICT OF THE UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT;
ROXIE TROST, IN THE OFFICIAL CAPACITY OF FIELD MANAGER OF THE BARSTOW FIELD OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT; AND
CHEVRON ENERGY SOLUTIONS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Otis D. Wright, II United States District Judge

O

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS [54, 57]

I.INTRODUCTION

Before the Court are Defendants' two concurrently filed motions:

(1) Defendants Ken Salazar, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Interior; United States Bureau of Land Management ("the Bureau"); Robert Abbey, in his official capacity as Director of the Bureau; Teri Raml, in her official capacity as District Manager of the Bureau, California Desert Division; Roxie Trost, in her official capacity as Field Manager of the Bureau, Barstow Field Office; and the United States Department of the Interior's (collectively, "Federal Defendants") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Compliant ("SAC") (ECF No. 54.); and (2) Defendant Chevron Energy Solutions Company's ("Chevron") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's SAC (ECF No. 57.).

Plaintiffs, La Cuna De Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle Advisory Committee ("La Cuna"); CAlifornians for Renewable Energy ("CARE") (collectively, "Organizational Plaintiffs"); Alfredo Acosta Figueroa; Phillip Smith; Patricia Figueroa; Ronald Van Fleet; and Catherine Ohrin-Greipp (collectively, "Individual Plaintiffs" and collectively with Organizational Plaintiffs, "Plaintiffs") filed a Consolidated Opposition on June 11, 2012. (ECF No. 61.) Defendants filed their respective Replies on June 18, 2012. (ECF Nos. 64, 65.)

For the following reasons, Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED.*fn1

II.FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn2

This lawsuit arises out of Plaintiffs' challenges to Defendants' actions in connection with a solar-electricity generation project called the Chevron Energy Solutions Lucerne Valley Solar Project(the "Project"). (SAC ¶ 7.) Because the Project is located on federal land, Chevron was required to obtain certain approvals from the Bureau prior to constructing and operating the Project.

In October 2010, Federal Defendants granted the requisite approval, which included an amendment to the existing California Desert Conservation Area ("CDCA") Plan and a right-of-way authorization. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that in granting these approvals, Defendants failed to comply with several federal laws. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants: (1) failed to consult with Plaintiffs regarding the Project as required under the National Historic Preservation Act ("NHPA"), the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act ("AIRFA"); (2) failed to "conduct an adequate analysis of the cumulative impacts, failed to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement ("PEIS"),*fn3 failed to adequately identify and evaluate the impact on the affected cultural environment, and failed to conduct an adequate analysis of alternatives to the Project" in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"); (3) allowed permanent impairment of the lands affected by the Project and unnecessary degradation of the lands in violation of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 ("FLPMA"); and (4) authorized solar-electricity generation activities on the affected lands "in a manner that will impose a substantial burden on Plaintiff's exercise of their religion," in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"). (SAC ¶¶ 8A--E.)

As a result of these contentions, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in this Court on January 13, 2011, for (1) violation of consultation rights pursuant to NHPA and AIRFA; (2) violation of NEPA; (3) violation of NEPA; (4) violation of FLPMA; (5) violation of RFRA; and (6) violation of public-participation rights. On October 24, 2011, this Court issued an Order granting in part and denying in part the Federal Defendants' motion to dismiss (in which Chevron joined), holding that the individual Plaintiffs had standing to proceed, but that La Cuna and CARE failed to sufficiently allege organizational standing. (ECF No. 38.) The Court granted Plaintiffs leave to amend to allege organizational standing and declined to rule on the substantive issues contained in the motion pending resolution of the standing issue. (Id.)

Plaintiffs filed their FAC on November 23, 2011. (ECF No. 41.) Federal Defendants and Chevron each moved to dismiss on December 12, 2011. (ECF Nos. 42, 45.) While Defendants no longer challenged Plaintiffs' standing, they sought dismissal of Plaintiffs' first, third, and fifth claims for violations of AIRFA, NEPA, and RFRA. (See generally ECF Nos. 42, 45.) Ultimately, the Court granted Defendants' Motions to Dismiss in their entirety, allowing Plaintiffs leave to amend their first, third, and fifth claims. (ECF No. 52.)

On April 4, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a SAC. (ECF No. 53.) On April 23, 2012, Federal Defendants and Chevron once again each moved to dismiss. (ECF Nos. 54, 55, 57.) While both Federal Defendants and Chevron again seek to dismiss Plaintiffs' first, third, and fifth claims, Federal Defendants alone additionally seek to dismiss Plaintiffs' fourth claim for violation of FLPMA. (ECF No. 55.)

III.LEGAL STANDARD

Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) can be based on "the lack of a cognizable legal theory" or "the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A complaint need only satisfy the minimal notice pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2)-a short and plain statement-to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Porter v. Jones, 319 F.3d 483, 494 (9th Cir. 2003); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). For a complaint to sufficiently state a claim, its "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). While specific facts are not necessary so long as the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which the claim rests, a complaint must nevertheless "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

Iqbal's plausibility standard "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Rule 8 demands more than a complaint that is merely consistent with a defendant's liability-labels and conclusions, or formulaic recitals of the elements of a cause of action do not suffice. Id. The determination whether a complaint satisfies the plausibility standard is a "context-specific ...


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