On December 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided the case of Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, et al., v. North Carolina Department of Transportation, et al. The Fourth Circuit concluded that, “[b]ecause events beyond the parties’ control have mooted this appeal, leaving the district court’s judgment undisturbed would not serve the public interest.” The proposed construction of a 22 mile toll road in North Carolina (the Connector) generated considerable controversy, and the plaintiffs in this case sued the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the officials representing those agencies challenging the environmental analysis. The District Court agreed with the plaintiffs that the environmental analysis was insufficient, and ruled on the merit of their petition.
However, while this case was being litigated, the North Carolina legislature “stripped the Connector of its funding and repealed the statute that expressly authorized its construction.” Then, after the District Court issued its ruling, state and local authorities removed the Connector from the various planning models for such projects.
On appeal, the Department contested the merits of the District Court ’s ruling on the adequacy of the environmental analysis, but also contended the case was now moot, and sought a vacate of the District Court ’s decision. The Fourth Circuit agreed, and noted that when a case is rendered moot on appeal, the court’s “customary practice” is to vacate the moot aspects of the district court’s judgment. It took the further step of vacating the district court’s judgment and remanded the case with instructions that the action be dismissed.