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Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc. v. Cantrell

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 24, 2019

RESIDENTS OF GORDON PLAZA, INC.
v.
LATOYA CANTRELL, ET AL.

         SECTION "B"(3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Defendants Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the City of New Orleans filed the instant motion for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative for summary judgment.[1] Rec. Doc. 36. Plaintiff timely filed a response in opposition. Rec. Doc. 44. Defendants sought, and were granted, leave to file a reply. Rec. Doc. 56. Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment on standing. Rec. Doc. 42. Defendants timely filed a response in opposition. Rec. Doc. 45. Plaintiff sought, and was granted, leave to file a reply. Rec. Doc. 53. For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED relative to the associational standing issue and plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED;

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment on standing is DENIED; and

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that defendants' motion to compel discovery responses (Rec. Doc. 62) and motion to file corrected opposition (Rec. Doc. 66), and plaintiff's motion to determine that defendants' answers and objections are insufficient (Rec. Doc. 63) are DISMISSED as moot.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed a citizen enforcement suit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”), alleging that the Mayor and City of New Orleans (“the City”) have imposed inhumane and dangerous living conditions on residents of Gordon Plaza. Rec. Doc. 2 at 1. Gordon Plaza is located on the former Agriculture Street Landfill (“Landfill”) site, which the City of New Orleans operated as a dump from 1909-1957 and reopened for waste from Hurricane Betsy in 1965-66. Id. at 5. Plaintiff's claims are described in greater detail in a recent Order and Reasons and are incorporated by reference here. Rec. Doc. 48.

         Defendants filed the instant motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), or in the alternative for summary judgment, on the grounds that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Rec. Doc. 36 at 1. Plaintiff timely filed a response in opposition, arguing that defendants' motion is meritless and asserting it has properly stated a claim upon which relief can be granted and that this Court does not lack subject-matter jurisdiction. Rec. Doc. 44.

         Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion for partial summary judgment that plaintiff has associational standing and its members have individual standing to bring this suit. Rec. Doc. 42. Defendants timely filed a response in opposition, restating the argument they put forth in their motion that plaintiff lacks individual standing, and that plaintiff does not have associational standing to seek individualized relocation on behalf of alleged and unnamed members. Rec. Doc. 45.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When the movant bears the burden of proof, it must “demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact” using competent summary judgment evidence. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. But “where the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence.” Lindsey v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 16 F.3d 616, 618 (5th Cir. 1994). When the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the non-movant, who must show by “competent summary judgment evidence” that there is a genuine issue of material fact. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). All reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the nonmovant, but “a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence.” See Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. Arcturus Corp., 912 F.3d 786, 792 (5th Cir. 2019).

         A. Plaintiff does not have standing to bring suit on behalf of its members

         Plaintiff does not have standing to bring suit because the requested relief of relocation would require individualized participation. Under the doctrine of associational standing, Residents may have standing to bring suit on behalf of its members if:

“[1] its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; [2] the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose; and [3] neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit.”

Nat'l Rifle Ass'n of Am., Inc. v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives, 700 F.3d 185, 191 (5th Cir. 2012). Defendants argue that it is impossible for plaintiff to meet the third prong of this test. In the complaint, plaintiff requests that the Court “order the Defendants to relocate the Plaintiff's members into comparable housing. . .” Rec. Doc. 2 at 11. Defendants assert that relocating members from their current homes to a new residence necessarily requires their individual participation, voiding associational standing. Even assuming, without deciding, that plaintiff could meet the first two prongs for associational standing, the Court finds that plaintiff's requested relief of relocation would require the individual participation of its members. Plaintiff argues that it requests only injunctive relief and not damages, and “suits for injunctive relief . . . do not involve individualized proof of damages.” Rec. Doc. 42-1 at 12 (citing Concerned Citizens Around Murphy v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc.,686 F.Supp.2d 663 (E.D. La. 2010)). In the Supreme Court case cited by the District Court in Concerned Citizens, the Court stated that “individual participation is not normally necessary when an association seeks prospective or injunctive relief for its members. . .” United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 751 v. Brown Group, Inc.,517 U.S. 544 (1996) (emphasis added) (internal quotations omitted). It is true that a typical request for injunctive relief may not require individual members' participation because an injunction often requires the defendant to act or not act in some way, without requiring anything of the members. However, in this case plaintiff seeks the individual ...


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