Bryant v. New Jersey Department of Transportation

998 F. Supp. 438 (D. N.J. 1998)
  • Opinion Date: February 17, 1998

ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS; STANDING; PRIVATE GROUPS — A party or class of parties that does not meet the definition of an “intended beneficiary” lacks standing under Title VI.

As part of an economic development project, a number of governmental entities joined together with a private casino developer and agreed to cooperate in the financing and construction of a casino entertainment complex. Residents of an African-American neighborhood and local neighborhood associations alleged that condemnation of their homes for construction of the highway and tunnel portions of the casino project would have a disparate impact on minority residents, and claimed an implied cause of action under Section 6.02 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After reviewing the Third Circuit’s decision in Chester Residents, 132 F.3rd 945, the District Court concluded that absent some bar, private plaintiffs may maintain an action under discriminatory effect regulations promulgated by federal administrative agencies pursuant to Section 6.02 of Title VI. Initially, the Court found such a bar. One month later, sua sponte, the Court, in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, National Credit Union Administration v. First National Bank & Trust Co., 525 U.S. 479 (1998), changed its mind.

In order to sue in federal court, a plaintiff must meet the requirement of statutory standing. Specifically, courts require that a plaintiff’s grievance must arguably fall within the zone of interests protected or regulated by the statutory provision or constitutional guarantee invoked in the suit. Prior to National Credit Union, it appeared that under Title VI, the “zone of interests” included the intended beneficiaries of, applicants for, and participants in federally funded programs. After the decision in National Credit Union, it now appears that for a plaintiff’s interests to be arguably within the “zone of interests” to be protected by a statute, there does not have to be an indication of Congressional purpose to benefit the would-be plaintiff. The proper inquiry is simply whether the interest sought to be protected by the complainant “is arguably within the zone of interests to be protected ... by the statute.” Thus, in applying the “zone of interests” test, the Court does not ask whether, in enacting the statutory provision at issue, Congress had specifically intended to benefit the plaintiff. After reading Section 601 of Title VI, the District Court came to understand that Title VI has been interpreted to reflect two purposes: “(1) to prevent discrimination by entities which receive federal funds; and (2) to provide citizens with effective protection against discrimination.” Consequently, the interests arguably to be protected by Title VI, then, are those of persons against whom federally funded programs discriminate. The Court, looking at the face of the residents’ complaint found that this was precisely the interest the plaintiffs sought to protect. In fact, it was clear to the Court that if these residents could not seek the protections of Title VI based upon the allegations in their complaint, then it would be doubtful that anyone could have standing. African-American residents of an municipality whose homes may be destroyed as a result of a federally funded highway project allegedly located in a discriminatory manner must be within the zone of interests protected by Title VI. As a result, the District Court, after a slight detour, found these particular residents had standing to challenge the condemnation of their homes for construction of the contemplated road work.