Federal Judge Terrence Boyle Unfit for Promotion to Appeals Court

Boyle’s improper attempt to use the 11th Amendment to shield state officials from responsibility for environmental racism

In the case of Franks v. Ross, 313 F.3d 184 (4th Cir. 2002), plaintiffs challenged the issuance of a permit to build a landfill in their town, which is “home to the largest percentage of African-Americans of any municipality in Wake County” and was already home to three other landfills. Id. at 188. Claiming that Wake County “has long engaged in a pattern of intentional discrimination in the siting of undesirable landfills near predominantly African-American communities,” plaintiffs brought suit against the county, the county board of commissioners, and two state officials, seeking injunctive relief to halt the construction of the landfill as well as making claims of civil rights and equal protection violations. Id. at 187-89. Boyle dismissed their claims, and they appealed to the Fourth Circuit. Id. at 188.

The Fourth Circuit first found that Boyle had abused his discretion in refusing to allow plaintiffs to amend their complaint after a state court had issued an opinion re-validating the issuance of the permit and thereby changing the facts of the plaintiffs’ case. Id. at 193. Boyle believed the plaintiffs had waited “nearly seven months” after the ruling to seek to amend their complaint and ruled that, due to the lapse in time, allowing the amendment would “clearly prejudice” the defendants. Id. However, the Fourth Circuit found that Boyle had been mistaken and the plaintiffs had actually sought to amend their complaint within three months of the separate court’s relevant decision. Id. The Fourth Circuit noted that “a decision premised on a ‘clearly erroneous finding of material fact’ constitutes an abuse of discretion” and found that such had been the case with Boyle’s denial. Id. The Fourth Circuit also found that Boyle had miscalculated when the statute of limitations began to run, and had thus improperly dismissed several of plaintiffs’ claims on that ground. Id. at 194-96.

The Fourth Circuit also addressed Boyle’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims against the state officials who were responsible for approving and permitting sites for landfills, claiming they were entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The Fourth Circuit noted that Boyle’s decision contradicted “the long-standing doctrine of Ex parte Young” that allows “suits against state officers for prospective equitable relief from ongoing violations of federal law.” Id. at 197-98.

The Fourth Circuit also criticized Boyle’s conclusion that Ex parte Young did not apply because the plaintiffs only sought to enjoin the construction, operation, and maintenance of the proposed landfill. Id. at 199. “While the [defendants themselves] would not be ‘constructing, operating, and/or maintaining” the landfill, “the plaintiffs were not required to present a perfectly drafted complaint in order to survive a motion to dismiss.” Id. The court found that the plaintiffs had given the defendants proper notice that they were seeking to enjoin their activities and “adequately asserted claims for injunctive relief . . . under Ex parte Young.” Id.

The Fourth Circuit noted specifically: “This case is not unique: the [] Defendants are state officials of North Carolina, acting in their official capacities. The Plaintiffs simply seek to enjoin them from engaging in what are alleged to be ongoing violations of federal law. The Plaintiffs adequately asserted claims for injunctive relief against the [] Defendants under Ex parte Young and the court erred in dismissing those claims.” Id.

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