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Hanson Bridgett Hits Home Run in Ninth Circuit for MTC (February 17, 2011)


The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit yesterday affirmed Hanson Bridgett’s hard-fought 2009 trial victory for its client Metropolitan Transportation Commission (“MTC”) in a published opinion in Darensburg et al. v. MTC. Kimon Manolius, lead Hanson Bridgett partner who handled the case and did the appellate argument on January 14, 2011, noted that, “We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit affirmed our victory so decisively and so quickly.” 

In Darensburg, which was filed in April 2005, the Plaintiffs, a class of bus riders 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 alleged that MTC’s funding decisions resulted in disparate impact that violated California state law. 

In September 2008, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. Laporte dismissed both federal intentional discrimination claims on summary judgment. After a four-week trial in 2008 on the remaining state law disparate claim, Judge Laporte ruled in MTC’s favor. The plaintiffs subsequently appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit. 

MTC is the transportation planning and financing agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. Its region is very complex and includes local streets and roads, highways, 101 cities, three major airports, a half dozen bridges, and more that two dozen transit operators. Transportation funding is very complicated with any number of laws, policies, and eligibilities for federal, state and local funding. Moreover, consensus is essential in the region to maximize the funds available to all of the stakeholders in the Bay Area to improve the system. The Plaintiff class had challenged wholesale a myriad of MTC policies regarding the way it handles federal, state and local funds. “This case challenged the very way that MTC does business, and the agency really wanted to fight this battle to the end,” reports Kimon Manolius, “and we were honored to help them do so.” 

In the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, authored by Appeals Court Judge Barry G. Silverman, the Court affirmed the lower court summary judgment ruling on the intentional discrimination claims: “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 trial court had found no disparate impact on all but one of MTC’s policies, the Regional Transit Expansion Plan, but as to that policy found that MTC had justified substantially its actions. Affirming MTC’s victory, the Appeals Court ruled that the trial court erred in even finding disparate impact on the transportation expansion policy: “From the facts before us, it is impossible to say with any confidence that San Francisco Bay Area minorities are adversely affected . . . 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 . . .” 

Manolius explained that, while MTC and its counsel had appreciated the victory in the trial court, the disparate impact finding “had irked us because it just was not correct. We challenged that finding as an alternate basis for affirmance. We and MTC are very pleased that the Ninth Circuit carefully considered that argument and dispelled any notion of disparate impact.” In fact, MTC’s Executive Director Steve Heminger stated that, “MTC is extremely grateful to Kim Manolius and the excellent team he assembled at Hanson Bridgett.” 

About Hanson Bridgett LLP

Founded in 1958, Hanson Bridgett has more than 150 attorneys located in offices in San Francisco, the North Bay, Sacramento, and the East Bay. Our clients range from multinational Fortune 500 corporations to individuals, including a number of public agencies in California. More information on Hanson Bridgett can be found at www.hansonbridgett.com.

Founded in 1958, Hanson Bridgett has more than 150 attorneys located in offices in San Francisco, the North Bay, Sacramento, and the East Bay. Our clients range from multinational Fortune 500 corporations to individuals, including a number of public agencies in California. More information on Hanson Bridgett can be found at www.hansonbridgett.com.

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