Case Law Updates on the Environment (CLUE)
Case Law Update Details
Camden County Historical Society v. New Jersey DOT
371 F. Supp. 3d 187, 2019 WL 2443101, 2019 WL 5558725
U.S. District Court - New Jersey
I-295 Direct Connection
The project involved a redesigned intersection of three highways—Interstate 295, Interstate 76, and State Route 42—in Camden County, New Jersey. The project was carried out by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) with funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). NJDOT and FHWA prepared a Final EIS in December 2008 and issued a ROD in March 2009. The selected alternative required demolishing the Harrison House, parts of which were built in the 18th Century. As part of its cultural resources assessment for the project, NJDOT determined that the project was not eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. NJDOT demolished the Harrison House in March 2017.
The plaintiff alleged that NJDOT and FHWA violated Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by failing to engage in a good faith review of historic resources. The plaintiff also alleged that NJDOT concealed evidence in violation of state law. In three separate rulings (March 6, June 12, and October 29, 2019), the court dismissed all the plaintiff’s claims. The court ruled that NJDOT could not be sued for violating the NHPA or state laws. The court also ruled that the plaintiff’s claim against FHWA was moot because the Harrison House had already been demolished, and therefore ordering FHWA to conduct a new Section 106 review of the building would be futile.
Mootness of NHPA Claims. The court held that the plaintiff’s NHPA claim against FHWA was moot because the Harrison House had been demolished. The court explained that the only remedy available for FHWA’s alleged NHPA violation was a new Section 106 review. But because the building had been demolished, “ordering a new section 106 review would be futile, and therefore such request for relief is moot.”
Claims Against NJDOT
NHPA Claims. The plaintiff alleged that NJDOT violated the NHPA by failing to exercise good faith in evaluating the historical significance of the Harrison House. The court ruled that the NHPA did not create a private right of action. In practical terms, the court’s ruling meant that state governments—including NJDOT—could not be sued for violating the NHPA.
State Law Claims. The court ruled that the plaintiff could not bring state law claims against NJDOT because the State of New Jersey did not waive its sovereign immunity. (State sovereign immunity, which stems from the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is a rule that a state cannot be sued in federal court without the state’s consent.) The court explained that even if a state law (the New Jersey Tort Claims Act) allowed the state to be sued in state court, that law did not waive the state’s sovereign immunity to lawsuits in federal court.