IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
2003 APR 24 PM 2:14
RICHARD W. WIEKING
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
NO. DIST OF CA
BAYVIEW HUNTERS POINT
COMMUNITY ADVOCATES, et al.,
NO. C-01-0750 TEH
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS MOTION FOR ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE WHY DEFENDANT MTC SHOULD NOT BE HELD IN CONTEMPT OF COURT
This matter came before the Court on March 24, 2003, on Plaintiffs' Motion for Order to Show Cause Why Defendant MTC Should Not be Held in Contempt of Court. After careful consideration of the parties' written briefs and oral arguments, and good cause appearing, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' motion for the reasons stated below.
On November 9, 2001, this Court found Defendants Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC") and San Francisco Municipal Railway ("MUNI") liable for failing to implement Transportation Control Measure 2 ("TCM 2"), a provision that has been part of California's state implementation plan of the Clear Air Act since 1982. Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates v. Metropolitan Transit Commission, 177 F. Supp. 2d 1011, 1029-1032 (N.D. Cal. 2001). Specifically, the Court held Defendants responsible for failing to achieve the 15% increase in regional transit ridership mandated by TCM 2. Id.at 1031-1032, To remedy this deficiency, the Court issued an injunction ordering MTC to adopt an amendment to the 2001 Regional Transportation Plan ("RTP") that describes "the specific projects that MTC will fund in order to achieve the required ridership increase by November 9, 2006; each project description shall include an implementation schedule, along with estimated costs and expected ridership gains." July 19, 2002 Order Granting Injunctive Relief ("Order") at 18 (emphasis added).
On November 20, 2002, MTC adopted the RTP Amendment, which was filed with the Court on January 16, 2003. Incorporated into the RTP Amendment is a table that includes a description of the 34 transit projects MTC plans to fund, their expected costs, an implementation schedule, and an estimate of ridership gains, which MTC characterizes as "the ridership expected for the new or improved services during the first year following their projected completion dates." Def. MTC's Opp'n to Pls.' Mot, for Order to Show Cause ("MTC's Opposition") at 1.
On February 14, 2003, Plaintiffs filed the motion currently under the Court's consideration. Plaintiffs argue that, in violation of the Order, the RTP Amendment does not include project-by-project "expected ridership gains." Plaintiffs seek issuance of an Order to Show Cause why MTC should not be held in contempt of the injunction. Furthermore, Plaintiffs request the imposition of sanctions against MTC in the form of payment of their attorneys' fees and costs associated with this motion and coercive penalties to ensure future compliance with the Court's injunctive relief order.
A party's failure to comply with a court order constitutes civil contempt. General Signal Corp. v. Donallco, Inc.,787 F.2d 1376, 1379 (9th Cir. 1986). See Go-Video v. Motion Picture Ass'n of America, 10 F.3d 693, 695 (9th Cir. 1993) (civil contempt "consists of a party's disobedience to a specific and definite court order by failure to take all reasonable steps within the party's power to comply"). A district court may find a party in civil contempt if the following four elements are satisfied: (1) violation of a court order, (2) beyond substantial compliance, (3) not based on a good faith and reasonable interpretation of the order, (4) by clear and convincing evidence. Id. "If a violating party has taken 'all reasonable steps' to comply with the court order, technical or inadvertent violations of the
order will not support a finding of civil contempt." General Signal Corp., 787 F.2d at 1379 (citation omitted). All ambiguities in an order for injunctive relief must be resolved in favor of the party subject to the injunction. Clark v Coye, 60 F.3d 600, 604 (9th Cir. 1995). A district court's finding of civil contempt is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Diamontiney v. Borg, 918 F.2d 793, 795 (9th Cir. 1990).
Sanctions may be imposed in a civil contempt proceeding "to coerce the defendant into compliance with the court's order, or to compensate the complainant for the losses sustained." United States v United Mine Workers of America, 330 U.S. 258, 303-304 (1947); General Signal Corp., 787 F.2d at 1380 (same). A district court imposing coercive sanctions must take into account "the character and magnitude of the harm threatened by continued contumacy, and the probable effectiveness of any suggested sanction in bringing about the result desired." Shuffler v Heritage Bank, 720 F.2d 1141, 1148 (9th Cir. 1983) (citation omitted). Compensatory sanctions must be based on "actual losses sustained as a result of the contumacy." Id.; United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. at 304 (fines imposed for a compensatory purpose must be "based upon evidence of [the] complainant's actual loss"). A district court's decision to impose sanctions for civil contempt is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. Gifford v. Heckler, 741 F.2d 263, 266 (9th Cir. 1984).
The issue presented in this motion is whether MTC's expression of "expected ridership gains" in the RTP Amendment is consistent with this Court's directive in the injunction and, if not, whether a finding of contempt and the imposition of sanctions are appropriate. Plaintiffs, relying primarily on MTC's own statements in the "Responses to Comments on RTP Amendment," see Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Pls.' Mot. for Order to Show Cause ("Plaintiffs' Motion"), Ex. D. at 4-5, and in the amendment itself, see id., Ex. C at 7, argue that MTC failed to include data on the incremental "gains" associated with the proposed transit projects the agency plans to find to achieve compliance with TCM 2. Plaintiffs contend that, in adhering only to the provisions of the Order that MTC considered useful, it violated the injunction and should be held in contempt. MTC, on the other hand, understands the disputed language to mean "the number of riders whose use of the new or improved services is expected to contribute to the achievement of the mandated target of 544.8 million boardings by 2006." MTC's Opposition at 1. MTC asserts that the approach to "expected ridership gains" it employed in the RTP Amendment is both reasonable and meaningful in the context of the Order.
Turning to the merits of parties' positions, the Court is of the opinion that Plaintiffs have not met their burden of demonstrating that MTC's conduct warrants a finding of civil contempt. First, Plaintiffs have not presented clear and convincing evidence that MTC has violated a "specific and definite court order. Go-Video, 10 F.3d at 695. Implicit in this finding is the Court's acknowledgment that its directive to MTC to amend the RTP to include "expected ridership gains" for each project is not without some degree of ambiguity. Such ambiguities in the Order must be resolved in MTC's favor. See Clark, 60 F.3d at 604. Second, given this uncertainty, MTC's approach to the "expected ridership gains" requirement "appears to be based on a good faith and reasonable interpretation of the Order]." Diamontiney, 918 F.2d at 797. The Court agrees that MTC's interpretation, which calls for providing an estimate of the total number of riders who will use each project once it is implemented, is logically related to the central requirement of the injunction, to wit: achieving a regional ridership target of 544.8 million boardings by 2006. Because this overall goal is stated as an absolute figure, MTC not unreasonably concluded that estimating the total number of riders on a given system is the most meaningful way of expressing "expected ridership gains." Third, Plaintiffs have not shown that MTC has failed to substantially comply with the Order. While the parties may disagree as to MTC's approach to reporting "expected ridership gains," at bottom this requirement is only one provision of a broad injunction. The bulk of the RTP Amendment remains unchallenged.
As the foregoing analysis suggests, MTC cannot be held in civil contempt for violating the letter of the injunction. The prior statements about the ambiguity of the "expected ridership gains" language notwithstanding, the Court notes, without so finding, that MTC's interpretation of the disputed portion of the injunction might indeed violate the spirit of the Order. When the injunction was issued, the Court expected MTC's estimate of "gains" to be something more akin to Plaintiffs' suggested incremental approach. However, the Court sees little value in ordering MTC to revise the RTP Amendment. As noted above, MTC's interpretation is reasonable in light of the overall boardings target the agency must achieve. Moreover, from a practical perspective, whatever harm MTC's alleged error might have cause is minimized by the fact that, because the injunction does not contemplate further amendments to the RTP, this issue will not arise again. Finally, the Court is not persuaded that Plaintiffs' suggested approach - the contours of which are not entirely clear - is so superior as to justify the expenditure of resources that revising the RTP Amendment a second time will inevitably entail. In sum, Plaintiffs have not shown that MTC's efforts to comply with the Order are so flawed as to justify a finding of civil contempt at this time. Similarly, Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that there exists just cause to order MTC to further modify the RTP. As the Court now declines to hold MTC in civil contempt, there is no basis on which to impose coercive or compensatory sanctions. See United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. at 303-304 (explaining the grounds on which sanctions may be imposed in a civil contempt proceeding). Plaintiffs' main concern, which was raised in their Reply and made explicit during oral argument, seems to be that MTC will not, at its current pace and without further judicial direction, achieve the 15% ridership increase mandated by TCM 2. Therefore, Plaintiffs urge the Court to establish interim ridership milestones that MTC must meet over the course of the next three years. For both procedural and substantive reasons, this request cannot be granted. Procedurally, this issue is not properly before the Court. Such relief cannot be granted on a motion for contempt, which is what is presently before the Court. With respect to the substance of Plaintiffs' proposal, the Court carefully considered, and expressly rejected, a similar request in the Order, stating:
The Court agrees with Plaintiffs that MTC would be well-advised to set interim ridership milestones to be achieved by 2004 and 2005. However, TCM 2 only requires that a 15% increase be achieved and does not provide any timetable by
which that increase must be incrementally achieved. Thus, in theory at least, MTC could comply with TCM 2 by keeping ridership constant for the first four years and boosting ridership to the requisite levels in the fifth year. In other words, intermediate milestones are not required to comply with TCM 2 and the Court therefore does not include them in this remedial order.
Order at 18 n.2 (emphasis added). For these reasons, Plaintiffs' request that the Court now set intermediate ridership targets is denied.
Plaintiffs have failed to present clear and convincing evidence that MTC violated a specific and definite court order, that MTC' s efforts to adhere to the injunction do not constitute substantial compliance, and that MTC's expression of "expected ridership gains" is not based on a good faith and reasonable interpretation of the Order. See Go-Video, 10 F.3d at 695. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' Motion for Order to Show Cause Why Defendant MTC Should Not be Held in Contempt of Court is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
THELTON E. HENDERSON, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
United States District Court for the
Northern District of California
April 24, 2003
* * CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE * *
Case Nurnber:3 :01-cv-00750
Bayview Hunters Poin
I, the undersigned, hereby certify that I am an employee in the office of the Clerk, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California.
That on April 24, 2003, I SERVED a true and correct copy(ies) of the attached, by placing said copy(ies) in a postage paid envelope addressed to the person(s) hereinafter listed, by depositing said envelope in the U.S. Mail, or by placing said copy(ies) into an inter-office delivery receptacle located in the Clerk's office.
Deborah S. Reames, Esq.
426 17th St
Oakland, CA 94612-2820
Bruce Edward Nilles, Esq.
426 17th St
Oakland, CA 94612-2820
Anne C Harper, Esq.
426 17th St
Oakland, CA 94612-2920
Alan Ramo, Esq.
Environmental Law and Justice Clinic
Golden Gate University School of Law
536 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94105
Helen H. Kang, Esq.
Golden Gate University
School of Law
536 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94105
Richard T. Drury, Esq.
Communities for a Better Communities
1611 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94612
Marc Chytilo, Esq.
P.0. Box 92233
Santa Barbara, CA 93190
David D. Cooke, Esq.
Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory LLP
333 Bush St
San Francisco, CA 94104-2806
Francis F. Chin, Esq.
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter
101 Eighth St
Oakland, CA 94608
Donald P. Margolis, Esq.
City Attorney's Office
City and County of San Francisco
1390 Market St., 6th Flr.
San Francisco, CA 94102-5408
Richard W. Wieking, Clerk
by: deputy clerk