A federal court in California has denied the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) motion to dismiss filed in a lawsuit brought by civil rights groups alleging that the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and nine other state agencies, which receive EPA funding, violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by permitting hazardous waste dumps in poor Latino communities. Padres Hacia Una Vida Mejor v. Jackson, No. 11‑1094 (E.D. Cal. 4/6/12).

According to the court, plaintiffs filed a Title VI administrative complaint with EPA in December 1994 against 10 state agencies and the owners of two waste dumps, alleging that they discriminated against plaintiffs in the siting, permitting, expansion, and operation of the waste dumps. In July 1995, EPA notified plaintiffs that it had accepted their Title VI complaint for investigation. In October 1996, plaintiffs sent a letter to EPA alleging that EPA had failed to adhere to regulatory deadlines with respect to processing Title VI complaints.  

EPA responded two months later, agreeing that it needed to improve the timeliness of its decisional process. Over the next several years, although the agency issued revised draft guidance for investigating Title VI complaints, it failed to process any Title VI complaints in accordance with the draft guidance. In January 2011, EPA dismissed plaintiffs’ 1994 complaint after finding that one of the 10 state agencies was not a federal financial assistance recipient. On June 30, plaintiffs sued. EPA moved to dismiss, contending that plaintiffs had waited too long to sue under the Administrative Procedure Act. In response to EPA’s motion to dismiss, plaintiffs argued that EPA’s failure to address plaintiffs’ civil rights claim over the past 15 years “violates its duty to issue preliminary findings, and every day that it does not issue findings is a repetitive discrete violation.”  

Although the court rejected EPA’s motion to dismiss, it acknowledged that the agency “raised significant and substantial issues of controlling law.” The court said that, as a result, it would entertain a motion for interlocutory appeal.