United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM CONSENT DECREE,
RE: DKT.No. 40
PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the court is defendant Scott Pruitt's motion for relief
from the Consent Decree. Dkt. 40. The matter is fully briefed
and is to be decided on the papers pursuant to a prior order
of the court. Dkt. 39. Having read the parties' papers
and carefully considered their arguments and the relevant
legal authority, and good cause appearing, the court hereby
DENIES the motion.
a closed environmental law case involving air quality
requirements, brought pursuant to § 304(a)(2) of the
Clean Air Act (“CAA”). On July 21, 2016,
plaintiffs the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center
for Environmental Health, and the Clean Air Council
(collectively, “plaintiffs”) brought this action
against Gina McCarthy, in her capacity as the Administrator
of the United States Environmental Protection Agency
(“EPA”). The current Administrator, Scott Pruitt,
has since been substituted as the defendant following the
change in administration.
alleged that EPA failed to perform non-discretionary duties
required by the CAA in relation to the 2008 National Ambient
Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”) for ozone.
See Dkt. 27, First Amended Complaint
(“FAC”) ¶ 1. Once EPA promulgates the NAAQS,
the CAA requires that EPA designate areas of the country as
in compliance (“attainment”) or not in compliance
(“nonattainment”). FAC ¶ 16. Each state is
required to submit state implementation plans
(“SIPs”) to ensure that it meets the NAAQS.
state or area fails to submit a SIP, EPA must make that
determination and publish notice of it on the Federal
Register, a process called a “finding of failure to
submit.” FAC ¶ 20. Once a region submits a SIP,
EPA must make a determination as to whether or not that SIP
is “administratively complete” within 6 months.
FAC ¶ 19. EPA must then either approve or disapprove the
SIP within one year. FAC ¶ 21.
alleged that EPA did not perform these duties in a timely
manner. The FAC brought two causes of action. The first claim
alleged that EPA has failed to make a “finding of
failure to submit” with respect to certain regions. FAC
¶¶ 30-35. The second claim alleged that the SIPs
submitted by other regions were “deemed
administratively complete” by law after six months, but
EPA has failed to make any determination approving or
disapproving the SIP within a year, as required by law. FAC
January 19, 2017, the court granted the parties' joint
motion to enter a Revised Consent Decree. Dkt. 32 (the
“Consent Decree”). As relevant to this motion,
paragraph 3.n. of the Consent Decree requires EPA to take a
final action, by September 29, 2017, on Delaware's SIP
regarding (i) the Ozone Transport Region Reasonable Available
Control Technology (RACT) Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) for Major
Sources, and (ii) the RACT Non-Control Technique Guidelines
(CTG) Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) for Major Sources.
more plainly, the Consent Decree requires that EPA approve,
disapprove, or conditionally approve Delaware's plan to
use reasonably available technologies to control major
sources of nitrogen oxides and other volatile organic
compounds by September 29, 2017.
28, 2017, plaintiffs filed an administrative motion
requesting that the court hold a telephonic status conference
because it appeared that EPA would not be able to comply with
this deadline in the Consent Decree. Dkt. 36. The court
granted the motion and held a telephonic status conference on
August 7, 2017. Dkt. 38. Following the conference, the court
ordered EPA to file a motion for an extension of the
deadline, which is now fully briefed and ripe for decision.
an approved consent decree represents a judgment of the
court, a party seeking relief from its terms must establish
one of the grounds identified in Federal Rule of Procedure
60(b). Rufo v. Inmates of Suffolk Cty. Jail, 502
U.S. 367, 378 (1992). Here, EPA seeks relief from the
judgment because “applying [the consent decree]
prospectively is no longer equitable, ” as well as
“any other reason that justifie[s] relief.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(5)-(6). Rule 60(b)(5) “provides a
means by which a party can ask a court to modify or vacate a
judgment or order if a significant change either in factual
conditions or in law renders continued enforcement
detrimental to the public interest.” Horne v.
Flores, 557 U.S. 433, 447 (2009) (quotations omitted).
is two-part standard for modifying a consent decree under
Rule 60(b)(5). First, the “party seeking modification
of a consent decree bears the burden of establishing that a
significant change in circumstances warrants revision of the
decree.” Rufo, 502 U.S. at 383. If this
“heavy burden” is met, the “district court
must then determine whether the proposed modification is
suitably tailored to resolve the problems created by the
changed factual or legal conditions.” United States
v. Asarco Inc., 430 F.3d 972, 979-80 (9th Cir. 2005). A
court abuses its discretion when it ...