OAKLAND, Calif., Feb. 16, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today upheld transit planning and funding decisions made by MTC, affirming a federal district court's 2008 ruling in Darensburg, et al v. Metropolitan Transportation Commission, that there was no intentional discrimination by MTC. The Appeals Court also ruled that the trial court erred in examining the issue of disparate impact (where the allegation was that funding and planning decisions had an unjustified adverse impact on members of a protected class), writing, "by failing to provide an appropriately tailored statistical measure, Plaintiffs have not carried their burden to establish a prima facie case . . ."
"We are pleased with this victory and happy that after nearly six years of litigation we can finally put this matter behind us," said Commission Chair Scott Haggerty, who also serves as an Alameda County Supervisor. "MTC has been forced to spend millions of scarce public dollars defending itself from a misguided lawsuit at a time when there is an urgent need to stabilize and improve all Bay Area transit systems."
In the Darensburg lawsuit, which was filed in April 2005, plaintiffs Sylvia Darensburg, Virginia Martinez and Vivian Hain, along with Communities for a Better Environment and the Amalgamated Transit Union Number 192, alleged that MTC's funding decisions purposefully discriminated against AC Transit's minority riders in violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The plaintiffs also argued that MTC's funding decisions created a disparate impact that violated California state law. A summary judgment by U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. Laporte in September 2005 dismissed both federal claims and held not only that there were no triable issues of fact showing intentional discrimination, but that MTC's funding decisions had treated AC Transit quite favorably. After a four-week trial in 2008 on the remaining state law claim, the U.S. District Court ruled in MTC's favor. The plaintiffs subsequently appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit.
Affirming the lower court ruling on intentional discrimination, Appeals Court Judge Barry G. Silverman wrote, "plaintiffs' intentional discrimination claim relies on drawing equivalences, between 1) bus riders and minorities, and 2) between rail riders and whites, that are not borne out by the data."
On the disparate impact claim, the Appeals Court ruled that the trial court erred in drawing inferences based on reliance on overall regional ridership statistics for existing bus and rail service. Judge Silverman wrote, "From the facts before us, it is impossible to say with any confidence that San Francisco Bay Area minorities are adversely affected . . .What is key is that [the] statistics say nothing about the particular ridership of the planned expansions. Simply because minorities represent a greater majority of bus riders as opposed to rail riders, the rejection of a particular new bus expansion project in favor of a new rail expansion project will not necessarily work to the detriment of minorities . . ."
A concurrence by Appeals Court Judge John T. Noonan noted, "An individual bigot may be found (in the Bay Area), perhaps even a pocket of racists. The notion of a Bay Area board bent on racist goals is a specter that only desperate litigation could entertain."
MTC is the transportation planning and financing agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.